Although the work of medical scientists is often carried out on a tiny scale it has a huge impact, touching the lives of just about every human on the planet. Sometimes, researchers enter this field for very personal reasons. That is the case for Catherine Pointer, a young research fellow in experimental cancer medicine. She was diagnosed with leukemia twice as a child, had a third bout with cancer as an adult, and now works at the hospital where she was first treated. Read her story to see if a career in medical research calls to you.
Catherine Pointer always had an interest in science, but she wasn’t particularly good at it at school. It wasn’t until she saw science in action, during her cancer treatment, that she found her calling.
At the age of 14, Catherine saw doctors carrying out tests on her blood, and found it so fascinating that she decided she wanted to be a scientist. After four cycles of chemotherapy, she fought off cancer and went into remission. But three years later, her leukaemia came back for a second round and there was only one thing to do: a bone marrow transplant. As a young adult, and having recently beaten skin cancer, Dr Pointer now works alongside the very same staff who treated her as a teen.
Cancer had dominated my life, but it was all I wanted to choose as a career. I didn’t want any 14-year-old to go through the same thing I had.
Keeping up the fight Europe makes up only 12.5% of the world’s total population but we account for 25% of the global total of cancer cases: around 3.7 million new patients per year and 1.9 million deaths each year, according to The World Health Organization. It is the second most important cause of death in Europe.
It is not just the disease which wreaks havoc on patients’ bodies and psyches. Ground-breaking treatments such as chemotherapy, while effective, come with side effects including fatigue, nausea, hair-loss and general depression of the human organism.
For Dr Pointer, the consequences have been far-reaching. Her skin cancer was a by-product of her previous treatment and her bone-marrow transplant caused her to become infertile. People shouldn’t have to choose survival at the expense of being able to live — there has to be a better outcome than that.
Dr Pointer began her career in search of answers about what had happened to her. She is now part of a passionate generation of young researchers seeking answers that will help us all.