19 January 2022
Full name: Chris Byrne
Job title: Clinical Trial Coordinator and PhD candidate
Organisations: Tayside Clinical Trials Unit, University of Dundee, Scotland; Division of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Dundee, Scotland.
In our first Meet the Members interview of 2022 we spoke with Chris Byrne from Scotland, who won highest-ranked student abstract at INHSU 2021 conference for his research on effective interventions to improve hepatitis C treatment for people who use drugs. We discuss the findings of Chris’s research, how joining INHSU’s network has helped him along the way, and get some insider tips on what to do in Glasgow, where our next conference is due to be held from 19-21 October 2022.
Tell us a bit about your background and what you do. Why did you choose this path? Particularly why you chose to specialise in hepatitis C and people who use drugs
Before getting involved in clinical research I worked in academic publishing for several years. After deciding on a change of direction, I was lucky to be offered a job as a trial coordinator with Prof. John Dillon’s team in Dundee, Scotland. I didn’t know much about clinical research at the time but, in a fortunate stroke of serendipity, it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Since joining Prof. Dillon’s team in 2017, I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing clinicians, nurses, and researchers on innovative projects designed to improve the health and wellbeing of people who use drugs, particularly those who are at risk of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. This experience sparked a passion.
I count myself lucky to have the opportunity to play even a small part in trying to improve the health and wellbeing of some society’s most marginalised and vulnerable people through my own work.
You won highest-ranked student abstract at INHSU 2021 for clinical research – tell us about your research
The broad focus of my PhD research is on effective interventions to improve HCV care for people who use drugs. The abstract presented at INHSU 2021 outlined preliminary results of a randomised trial of point-of-care HCV RNA diagnosis for those receiving opioid agonist therapy in community pharmacies in Scotland, Wales, and Australia, compared to conventional care. Separately, as part of my PhD, I have researched: health service mechanisms enabling regional micro-elimination of HCV/HIV co-infection; the effects of rapid regional HCV treatment scaleup among people who use drugs upon disease burden, mortality, and re-infection; and implementation of rapid point-of-care RNA testing in a Scottish prison. The overarching goal of my work is to try to understand what works where and why.
What’s one thing you hope to achieve through your research?
Ultimately, my research aims to contribute to simplifying and improving access to healthcare for people who use drugs.
Your research looks a lot at effective interventions to improve HCV testing and treatment among people who use drugs. In your opinion, what interventions will be key in Scotland to enhancing linkage to care?
I’m not convinced that there are any silver bullets; what works in one part of the country may not be suitable for another, and capacity and resource vary across Scotland. However, continuing our remobilisation efforts as quickly as possible following the impact of COVID-19 will be crucial, alongside incentivising attendance at harm-reduction and other outreach settings to rebuild the footfall which has diminished since the pandemic hit.
At a wider level, bolstered political will is required to address the current legal impasse on safe consumption facilities at the UK level, to complement the supports and interventions already in place. From a practical perspective, rapidly scaling up DAA treatment by implementing community-based low-threshold testing and treatment has been shown to reduce HCV viraemia among people who use drugs at the population level, and will be an important strategic approach. This can be underpinned by simplified point-of-care diagnostics, non-invasive fibrosis assessments, and decision-making algorithms to support DAA prescribing by non-medics in community settings.
What is the one thing you’ve come across in your career/study that you think everyone should know if they work with people who use drugs?
Be sure to meet people where they are and value the time, views, and contributions of people who use drug when designing healthcare or research initiatives.
What advice would you give to other student researchers who are looking to become involved with the network or contribute to research in these spaces?
If you’re currently research active, then submit your abstracts and get going! INHSU provides financial supports – which I have benefitted from myself in recent years – and conference events designed to support new researchers and connect you with leaders in the field.
If you have any questions or concerns you can always reach out to the INHSU secretariat, who I have always found helpful. If you’re thinking about getting involved in research related to INHSU’s strategic mission, please feel free to reach out to network members and get discussions started on your ideas. INHSU describes itself as a community and if you reach out you’ll find someone willing to help you out.
We’re heading to Glasgow for INHSU next year – what’s the one thing people should do in Scotland if they come and join us?
I’ve made a habit of visiting the local Botanic Gardens whenever I visit a new city and, as we’ll be in Glasgow, I’d suggest the Glasgow Botanics (presuming it’s not raining!). If that’s not your thing, you won’t be short of castles, distilleries, or amazing museums to explore.