Newcastle nurse awarded first clinical academic research partnership

Dr Lorraine Cowley is the first nurse to receive a prestigious national research fellowship.

Genetic Counsellor and former Oncology Nurse Dr Cowley, from Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University, has been awarded a Clinical Academic Research Partnership (CARP) fellowship by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to advance her research into inherited diseases.

CARP awards are traditionally given to NHS consultants and are designed to provide research-qualified health professionals with the opportunity to form a research partnership with established biomedical and applied health researchers. The award provides successful applicants with funding towards their salary to support protected research time, as well as associated costs to undertake the project.

Dr Cowley’s research will explore the experiences of patients and healthcare professionals in 15 Latin American countries who are part of a study known as Latin SEQ, which offers genetic testing to diagnose inherited muscle diseases. She will evaluate patients, families and health care practitioner experiences of receiving and giving a genetic diagnosis, as well as areas including changes to patient care, communicating genetic information and cultural contexts.  She will bring those insights back to the UK to inform genetic education.

Dr Cowley currently works as a genetic counsellor at the Centre for Life. When she started her nursing career in oncology nursing, she developed a keen interest in research after observing a number of clinical trials. After becoming particularly fascinated by patient perspectives, she went on to do an MSc researching the experiences of women having chemotherapy for breast cancer.

With the discovery of the BRCA genes, Dr Cowley became interested in hereditary cancers and was appointed as a genetic nurse specialist, before going on to be one of the UK’s first dual registered genetic counsellors.

With funding from Cancer Research UK, her PHD studied families with Lynch Syndrome, a genetic susceptibility to bowel cancer, and the ethical impact upon individuals and relationships.

Dr Cowley received the CARP fellowship following an application process, which was supported by Newcastle Health Innovation Partners (NHIP) Academy, the training and career development structure for NHIP, the Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC) for our area.

She said: “It is an honour to be the first nurse to receive a CARP award and I’m delighted to have been given this opportunity to use my experience to research genetic disease in a Latin American context. I have a real interest in the impact that inherited diseases have on people and how that knowledge can impact the care that patients and families ultimately receive.

“The CARP award gives me the tools I need to be able to undertake this research. It means I can have a clinical and academic split in my work, which is really important to me as I feel that ideas for research should come from working with patients on a day-to-day basis. This split is not something that is usually accessible to nurses – and it is great to see these opportunities are growing.

“The CARP will also provide me with funding to do field work with patients with undiagnosed muscle disorders in 15 Latin American countries, where I can do qualitative research with patients, their families and clinicians and think about how it compares with a diagnosis in a UK setting and how we can share learning together.”

Dr Amy Brown, NHIP Academy Manager, added: “We are delighted to hear the news that Lorraine was successful in her CARP application – it is fantastic to see the first nurse receive this award.

“NHIP Academy was privileged to support her throughout the application stages – from helping Lorraine to navigate the internal processes and access local expertise to crafting the application to address the scheme requirements through to responding to reviewers comments. Her work is innovative and has the potential to be hugely impactful.

“Lorraine is addressing a clear and current unmet need in Latin America and learnings from this award will inform how the UK can better deliver genomic testing and education.   I wish her the best of luck with her research and look forward to working with her on the next application.”

Lindsay O’Dair, Lead Genetic Counsellor and Deputy Clinical Lead for Clinical Genetics at Newcastle Hospitals, said: “It is fantastic that Lorraine’s hard work and passion for research has been recognised. Clinical genetics has expanded so much over the last decade and it is really important that we continue to look at the impact of this for patients and their families.

“Lorraine has always had a strong interest in exploring and researching psychosocial aspects of genetic counselling but this can be difficult to accommodate within a busy clinical role. The award provides valuable protected time for Lorraine to pursue her project. We hope to be able to build on this to ensure that we continue to benefit from her research expertise.”

Newcastle Hospitals’ Executive Chief Nurse, Maurya Cushlow, said: “Lorraine is a true role model and leader, who has used her years of clinical and research expertise to develop as a real trailblazer in her now global field of research. It’s fantastic to see her tenacious and resilient approach when seeking funding and awards being recognised with this prestigious CARP fellowship. This will provide Lorraine with a real step change in enabling her to really push research forward.

“She is a major contributor to the research priority of our Newcastle Hospitals’ Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals Strategy, and this latest award is yet another string to her bow and a superb example of how professional nurses of her calibre are delivering on the Chief Nursing Officer’s Plan for Research ‘Making research matter’.

“We look forward to seeing the outcomes of her international collaborations and are delighted that she is the first Nurse ever to receive this fellowship. Huge congratulations Lorraine.”

Professor Waljit Dhillo, Dean of the NIHR Academy said: “The CARP Fellowship is open to a wide range of healthcare professionals beyond medicine so we’re delighted to announce Lorraine as the first nurse to receive the award.

“The award provided the opportunity for health professionals to develop research collaborations which will enhance their research skills and address health issues which are of benefit to the public.”

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