CRUK Leeds-Manchester Clinical Research Training Fellow
Cancer Research UK have transformed their clinician scientist training provision and committed £50.7 million to their Centres over five years to offer greater flexibility in early career training and a wider range of career pathways. As part of our CRUK Manchester Centre Clinical Academic Training Programme Award, we have entered into a strategic partnership with the University of Leeds in academic pathology and clinical trials, building on our joint research ambitions and leveraging expertise and externally funded Clinical Research Training Fellows (CRTFs) in Leeds.
We spoke to Dr Jim Zhong, a CRUK Leeds-Manchester CRTF in clinical trials, who is researching the personalising and re-irradiation of locally recurrent prostate cancer directed by MR imaging and hypoxia biomarkers.
The reach that you can potentially have with your research is much bigger when you are working collaboratively across centres and institutions.
CRUK Leeds-Manchester Clinical Research Training Fellow
What prompted you to apply for this role?
For the majority of my time at medical school, I wanted to be a surgeon, but during my final year elective at Columbia Medical Centre (New York, USA) I undertook a research project in interventional radiology (IR) where I discovered minimally invasive image guided treatments for cancer. Radiologists do a lot of work in diagnosing and treating cancer and my research in this area led me to develop an interest in oncology and I subsequently took on an Academic Clinical Fellowship (ACF) post at Leeds. This provided me with dedicated time for cancer imaging research projects, in which I investigated whether different types of imaging could improve cancer care and change how patient treatment was managed.
When I saw the Cancer Research UK Leeds-Manchester Clinical Research Training Fellowship (CRTF) advertised with Dr Ann Henry (University of Leeds) as Lead Supervisor, I decided to apply and was successful in this application. The project’s focus on prostate cancer aligned well with my prior interests in imaging and clinical trials. There are seven supervisors split between the University of Leeds and University of Manchester, including researchers at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.
What does your current research/role involve?
My PhD uses MRI and a hypoxia biomarker to try and personalise how patients with prostate cancer are treated with radiotherapy. I present at lab meetings and have recently met groups face-to-face. A standard week will involve several virtual Zoom meetings across Leeds and Manchester. On Mondays I attend virtual lab meetings with the radiation oncology group at The Christie; these meetings are chaired by one of my Manchester supervisors, Professor Ananya Choudhury. I predominantly work from home looking at clinical and imaging data and the best methods to use to analyse these large databases. I spent time reviewing literature on imaging biomarkers in prostate cancer and have spent time to write up. I am able to remotely access my workstation at The Christie and use this to look at anonymised data sets with a coding platform. I also do a half day prostate biopsy list in a hospital in Leeds and take part in a brachytherapy list a cancer hospital. Brachytherapy is a type of radiotherapy that can be used to treat prostate cancer patients.
I was amazed by how many academic clinicians were working in this area and knew that being around so many multidisciplinary clinical academics would help me in my research.
Having already worked as an ACF at Leeds, I was eager to stay in this area. The translational and lab-based research happening at The Christie was a big attraction of this project. I was amazed by how many academic clinicians were working in this area and knew that being around so many multidisciplinary clinical academics would help me in my research.
Within my supervisory teams, there aren’t many radiologists, but I knew that I would benefit from their expertise in oncology.
What have been your research highlights?
One research highlight during my academic training has been attending an academic retreat in the countryside, which is hosted three times a year by Professor Phil Quirke from the University of Leeds. These events include having invited lecturers on the first night followed by a full day of events geared towards academic fellowships. These included sessions on how to present your research, research skills and networking with junior and senior colleagues. This was run as a virtual event during the pandemic.
How does the Clinical Research Training Fellowship support your career ambitions?
I hope to continue with my research post-PhD when I move into a consultant career. My PhD will provide me with transferable skills such as knowing how to set up clinical trials. These are currently lacking in my area of interventional radiology and interventional oncology (using image guided therapies to treat cancer) as our academic infrastructure isn’t as well-developed as oncology. In the future, I hope to develop trials to determine the success of the IR treatment we are providing, ideally continuing to work between Leeds and Manchester.
What advice would you give to clinical trainees applying for a CRUK Leeds-Manchester Clinical Research Training Fellowship?
Read around the project summary and check that it aligns with your own interests. This will tell you whether your project is going to be lab-based, involve imaging, or if you’ll have to learn new software. Don’t worry if it’s not the speciality that you worked with in your medical training – a PhD enables you to learn and gain expertise in areas such as methodologies and clinical studies. Reach out to the lead supervisor of your project as early as possible to have an initial conversation pre-application. This will help the supervisor to get to know you and to find out about your research interests.