Q & A with Dr David Walker

We caught up with Dr David Walker, Professor of Paediatric Oncology at Nottingham Children's Hospital. Dr Walker has been involved in our HeadSmart campaign since it began.

What inspired you to specialise in brain tumours?

I had the opportunity to do a research fellowship in Australia where there were good hospital services for children with brain tumours. When I returned to UK I was asked to lead a workshop to identify the priorities for improving outcomes for paediatric brain tumour patients.

That workshop highlighted to me the poor diagnosis times for children, which has since become a focus of my career. I've also been heavily involved in opening new trials and developing a national network of specialist centres.

Why is it important that the HeadSmart campaign is based on research/evidence?

From talking to parents and their children we noted the delay from when symptoms were first presented and the missed opportunities for earlier scans which could've led to earlier diagnosis. Although there were some previous reports summarising these experiences, we decided that up-to-date information from the UK was needed to see if the same was true across the nation. Using this evidence, guidelines were developed to advise doctors on how to recognise symptoms and speed up diagnosis. The evidence also showed us how poorly the UK ranked in comparison to other countries for average diagnosis times.

What is the importance of working with charities and other organisations?

We couldn't tackle this alone as we felt we needed to inform the public as well as healthcare professionals. The charities supporting those affected by childhood brain tumours immediately saw the need and were keen to help with both funding and support of the campaign. As a result, The Brain Tumour Charity and the other partners of HeadSmart have had a positive impact on raising its awareness and reducing average diagnosis times.

What is the importance of translational research and do you think clinical trial opportunities for paediatric patients will increase in the future?

Translational research is about getting new ideas from bench to bedside and with brain tumours there is a need to do that quickly. We are also working on other research areas that could enhance quality of life and survival for children with brain tumours, such as improving existing treatments. Clinical trials are an important step in bringing new treatment to patients. We hope that continually raising awareness of HeadSmart will generate an interest in this research area, and provide an incentive for a generation of future clinical trials.

What advice would you give to young people who are looking to start a career as a clinician or researcher?

Science is ever changing and you will never be bored! Being a mainstream scientist is tough but can be an extremely worthwhile challenge. To apply science in a medical career is also enormously rewarding as not only do you have the satisfaction of working with the people with the disease, but also if you translate your scientific ideas into practice you can measure improvements in society as a consequence.