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Dr Susanne Gatz, originally from Germany, works as a children’s cancer doctor and researcher at the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Birmingham. Typical of cancer researchers in the UK, Gatz requires easy movement across Europe to do her job.
With the Government redesigning the immigration system, a change that will impact all scientists moving between the UK and EU, we spoke to Gatz about her experience of travelling across Europe for work.
“It’s quite diverse work” says Gatz, “I’m a clinical academic, which means on the one hand I am treating children with cancer and on the other hand I am researching how we can improve treatments for these children.”
These different roles mean there’s no typical day for Gatz. Work can involve anything from seeing patients and their families to discussing projects in the lab, but a lot of her time is spent travelling across Europe and beyond to meet colleagues in different countries who are working towards the same goal: helping more children survive their cancer.
Researching children’s cancers is challenging, but Gatz finds it hugely rewarding. “It’s exciting because of all the opportunities we have in cancer drug development to improve outcomes for children with cancer.”
One opportunity she mentions is a clinical trial for children and young adults with a rare form of soft tissue cancer, called rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS).
“For the first time, we can include patients who have just been diagnosed and patients who have relapsed or are progressing in a single trial. This is a really big deal and I’m involved in trying to access new medicines that can be tested in the trial, which is promising for such a rare cancer.”
The Far-RMS trial would not be possible without international collaboration. With such low numbers of patients in individual countries, the trial must be run across several. Working together like this should help speed up new and better treatments for children with rhabdomyosarcoma.
“A key thing to our research is to be at meetings with colleagues outside your institutions, to broaden your horizons. This is really important in rare diseases such as paediatric cancers where you need to team up to make discoveries but to also treat effectively and run clinical trials.”
Email and teleconferences help Gatz stay in touch with international colleagues, but face-to-face meetings play a vital role too.
“That’s where we discuss the biggest issues we face. This is really important because you can talk with so many different people and it’s often where we drive projects forward and create new ideas.”
Without quick, visa-free movement of researchers across borders, it would be difficult for these meetings to take place. And when collaborating across borders is the quickest and best way to find treatments for children’s cancers, countries can’t afford to put up barriers.
“We already have long days, but at least at the moment I can wake up at 4am and head straight to the airport and then get to a meeting for 9am,” says Gatz. “If I couldn’t, it would be enormously burdensome, and I would lose time. This would make it more expensive and harder to make agreements with fellow researchers.”
Working across borders is a must in Gatz’s research, and she clearly has a strong bond with her international colleagues.
“Whether it is my clinical role or research role, I feel that together with my international colleagues and collaborators, we can step by step make a difference.”
Gatz’s interest in children’s cancers began in Germany, where she did her medical training and studied for a PhD.
“I decided to come to the UK in 2008 to do more research. I really liked the research environment in the UK as it allowed me to bring together my interests in medicine development with my passion for paediatric oncology.”
Straightforward travel to and from Gatz’s home of Germany made her decision to move here simple.
“Easy movement definitely played a role in my decision to move to the UK. All of the research I was interested in at the time was from either the UK or US, so when it came to decide where to move, the UK was the obvious choice.”
But with the UK’s future relationship with the EU bringing so much uncertainty, Gatz is beginning to reconsider her options. “I have considered going back to Germany and actively pursued the option. I probably would have continued to pursue this if I hadn’t secured a permanent position here in Birmingham.”
And it’s vital for Gatz that our future immigration system lets researchers like her feel that they can do their jobs by travelling easily across Europe.
“I hope we are successful in identifying a way to keep easy movement between UK and EU. It would make life for researchers much easier and give our research the security it needs.”
Angeliki Yiangou is a policy advisor at Cancer Research UK
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