Professor Annie Young
"Hair loss seems to be such an important and key factor in psychological care and emotional care as well as the treatment care. That’s what matters most to them, so that’s what matters most to me."
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Who are you, and what do you do?
My name’s Annie Young and my time is split into two really. I’m a Professor of Nursing at the Medical School, and a practising Nurse at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire. I run clinics at the hospital, and my main research theme and practice is in the cancer arena, in supportive care and patient symptoms, so symptomatic care. One of my research areas of expertise is thrombosis clots in cancer.
What inspired you to do cancer research?
As a Nurse I had done a degree in Biochemistry so I loved all the science behind the cancer as well. Now that’s a million years ago because I’m very old! But as a Nurse I just cared for many cancer patients and as it became a speciality and I became a Research Nurse, I just saw how you could put the science and the caring together, and that’s really why I went into cancer research.
Why is ‘Cool Cap’ research important?
So, hair loss because of chemotherapy is just devastating for patients, and often patients will tell us that it’s the most devastating side-effect of the whole chemotherapy course and regime. We’re trying to prevent chemotherapy-induced-hair-loss in certain types of patients, with certain types of drugs, with a scalp cooler.
We know that this works from many former research papers, but we’re trying to cut down the time after the chemotherapy infusion when the patient has the cooler on – we’re trying to see if we can cut down the time that the patient has to wait with the cooler on, because that takes up time after their chemotherapy, and it also takes up space for the organisation.
So we’re trying to see if the post-infusional cooling time can be shortened so that patients can have their chemotherapy and leave, but have their scalp-cooling as well. Our whole aim is to try and prevent hair-loss for certain groups of patients.
Well, my colleague Asra (pictured right with her #CoolCapSelfie) has run intensive focus groups with patients about the effect of hair loss, both men and women.
Some patients just feel naked without their hair, and of course it’s not just the hair on top of your head; you lose your eyebrows and eyelashes too, and you’re used to those framing your face. It makes the treatment more public, and makes strangers look at them with sympathy, which people often don't like.
So people keep towels around the house to wrap around their head and pretend they’ve just stepped out of the shower if someone comes around. Some wear wigs, some don’t like them, they feel they’re too hot and itchy, or they think they don’t look good. Some people prefer hats and scarves.
Some people deal with it better than others and it depends on their support systems too. One woman’s husband wouldn’t sleep with her anymore because she didn’t have any hair - her husband said he couldn’t look at her anymore. What made her rally round was that her little son said “Mummy, you’re still my mummy even without your hair, and I still love you”, and that brought her back. These are really emotional stories.
Many patients we've talked to would have loved the option of scalp-cooling and don’t get offered it by their hospital. I think everyone should have the option.
What's special about Warwick's approach to cancer research?
I think within the Medical School at Warwick and within the Cancer Research Centre, we’re doing unique research really. We’re trying to have a niche in cancer research, and I think working with the fantastic schools that we have within the University – and I mean Systems Biology, Mathematics, the Institute of Digital Health, Engineering – working in a collaborative manner makes a big, big difference.
We’re taking areas of expertise of professionals that we have here – clinicians and other experts – and we’re bringing that together to have a niche programme that no one else does. My colleagues Peter Sadler and Isolda Romero-Canelón are working on new drugs, with new drug delivery systems by Seb Perrier's team too.
But we're also leading the way in using Big Data in cancer research - for example, Systems Biology are taking the data that we are eliciting from our clinical trials – big data sets from huge national trials that we’re doing here - and asking can they predict the outcome before a patient even starts their treatment; can they predict what will happen to the patients in terms of survival and toxicity? Can their profiles help the next generation of patients?
What keeps you motivated?
The bit that keeps me motivated is the patient voice really – so sometimes the carers come with the patients asking us for certain types of research, but in practice they’re asking for scalp-cooling, so that’s what keeps me going – so the patient and the carer voice is very strong, and they’re coming asking can we make the patients look better? And hair loss seems to be such an important and key factor in their whole psychological care and emotional care as well as the treatment care. That’s what matters most to them, so that’s what happens most to me.
The best moment of my career was when I got this wonderful job at the University of Warwick in the Medical School, and that was a culmination of caring for cancer patients for over 20 years, and doing research into symptomatic care, into what the patients suffered really, and just to bring that together and lead a team to actually make a difference to what’s most important to the patients. I feel that this job has facilitated more research to make a real difference to patient care.
What would you say to donors?
Thanks so much for your donation today, it really makes a difference to our patients, to our local community and other patients in the West Midlands!