MEDICAL research by an aspiring young doctor is to be developed further in the hope it can lead to better treatments for cancer patients.
Jess Leighton, who is head girl at Emmanuel College in Gateshead, independently applied for a bursary from the Nuffield Foundation to carry out her project.
After discussions with Professor Ruth Plummer at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital and her biology teacher, Dr Dave Howe, she began her study to evaluate how orthostatic hypotension – low blood pressure on standing – may be an indicator for cancer-related fatigue.
The 18-year-old, from Felling, Gateshead, spent five weeks of her summer holidays working full-time on the project at the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre and reviewing literature on the subject.
“Fatigue is a huge problem for many cancer patients, but its cause has not been identified and therefore treating it is very difficult,” said Jess.
“Cancer-related fatigue is not just tiredness, it can be really debilitating. Through my study I investigated the relationship between fatigue and orthostatic hypotension by assessing the levels of each among the patients who took part.”
Jess assessed the experiences of four patients at the cancer centre and interviewed 10 others. “They were all fantastic,” she said. “I was really honoured that they were so willing to contribute to my study.
“I read a huge amount about cancer so I could understand the condition better. It was really encouraging to learn about all the research that is going on and the various studies helped to inform both my investigations and my A-level work.”
Jess, who works weekends as a domestic assistant at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, is studying A-levels in chemistry, biology, maths and further maths. She has applied to read medicine at university and hopes to work as a doctor.
The results of her study, which she presented in a 26-page report, are not statistically significant because of the small sample size but are considered to be clinically important.
Prof Plummer said she is now working with colleagues at Newcastle University to take Jess’s pilot data further.
She added: “It was a pleasure to have Jess on the unit and we have all benefited from her enthusiasm and passion for learning. The patients were delighted to talk to such a motivated student. We are all keen to keep in touch with her and wish her well for her further studies.
“With colleagues from the university, we will be looking at how we can better understand this side effect of many of our treatments and hopefully treat it and improve quality of life for our patients.”
Jonathan Winch, principal at Emmanuel College, added: “Jess is an outstanding young lady and has an enormous amount to contribute to the medical profession and to patients in years to come.”