60 seconds with Daniel McAleese
Dan is a Clinical Trial Support Officer in the Oncology Clinical Trials Office (OCTO).
In this interview, Dan not only gives us an insight into his work and the role of OCTO, but also tells us about how his presentation at the Ashmolean's Spellbound exhibition got people thinking about the similarities between science and sorcery!
Tell us a little about your role
Since December 2017 I have worked as a Clinical Trial Support Officer in the Oncology Clinical Trials Office (OCTO) here in the Department of Oncology. Currently, the majority of my time is spent providing overall assistance to the SCALOP-2 trial; a multi-centre randomised study of induction chemotherapy followed by Capecitabine (+/-nelfinavir) with high or standard dose radiotherapy for locally advanced non-metastatic pancreatic cancer. I also provide support to CYTOFLOC, a device trial assessing the feasibility of Cytosponge™ for post-chemoradiation surveillance of oesophageal cancer. Both of these trials are led by Prof. Somnath Mukherjee and make-up part of OCTO's Radiotherapy and Imaging portfolio.
And why is what your team does important?
The work we do in OCTO may be a little unknown to the rest of the department. OCTO works with investigators to develop protocols and grant applications to help lead the delivery of single and multi-centre trials both within the UK and internationally, specialising in early stage, multi-modal, science rich clinical trials. Essentially, we take the latest treatment ideas in cancer medicine and ask the very important question: do they actually work? Perhaps one way to think about our work at OCTO is, through effective clinical trial management, we act as the bridge between sciences conducted in labs and Phase 0 trials, and the treatments administered to patients in real world settings.
How did you get to this point in your career?
Throughout my higher education I've always had a passion for health research and in 2017 I graduated from the University of Bristol with a master's degree in Public Health. During this time, my work was heavily focused on understanding, critiquing and applying knowledge of research methods to help develop public health interventions which aimed to manipulate various health behaviours. The transferrable skills I gained during my studies were essential in starting a challenging career in clinical trials. And I was right about it being challenging! The complexity of protocols used in oncology trials was far greater than what I was used to, but this keeps the job interesting and engaging. I am excited for whatever the future holds in my clinical trials career.
You recently led a session at the Ashmolean's Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft exhibition. What was your presentation about? How did you find this experience?
The aim of my talk was to introduce to the audience the idea that science and sorcery may be more similar than many people think. Whether it be casting a spell or testing a new radiotherapy technique, sorcerers and scientists both do something to try and bring about a desired effect.
But to make sure it wasn't just blind luck that someone has started floating due to a spell, or it wasn't just luck that a patient responded to treatment, I introduced to the audience key factors that are essential in designing a fair test of an intervention. Some of the same factors we account for when designing clinical trials. The take home message from the session was that anyone can conduct a fair test of anything; perhaps a witch could test if her spells actually work using many of the same principles we use when testing the efficacy of a cancer treatment?
At the beginning, presenting the similarities between scientific practices and magic while entertaining an audience seemed like a big task. Therefore, I am extremely grateful for the guidance of Dr Martin Christlieb, I encourage all to get involved with the Public Engagement Ambassador scheme he is running in the department.