Alexander Davies – Small Animal Primary Care Clinician
What or who inspired you to become a vet?
From a young age, I had a fascination with the animal kingdom, revelling in the diversity of veterinary species. This started with a collection of entomology magazines at age 14 and ownership of two stick insects. Gradually through work experience across the veterinary profession, it became clear that the lifelong learning, intellectual stimulation and day-to-day variety that comes with the career as a vet was my only ambition.
What is your current job?
Since graduating I have worked in Shepherds The Vets, a small animal primary-care hospital in south Wales. After completing much of my EMS placements at Shepherds, I was excited to return as a qualified vet. I am constantly developing my practical skills and advancing my clinical knowledge as part of a motivated and friendly team, always striving to deliver the highest standards to the pets in our care. I am fortunate to experience a busy and varied caseload, and have been able to identify evidence gaps in the veterinary literature when reading around difficult cases presented to me. As such I have continued to fulfil my passion for research alongside my job as a vet through PetSavers and other research avenues.
I am also very passionate about mentoring and have a part-time position as a senior mentor at Vet Mentor, a non-profit organisation that provides educational opportunities to students aspiring to pursue veterinary medicine. My proudest achievement at Vet Mentor so far is the launch of a free virtual veterinary work experience programme that is attended by over 700 aspiring students every month and which has even welcomed the RCVS to co-host a session!
How did you become interested in science and in your broad field of study? What motivated the research?
The impact science has on health and society in general has always interested me. Throughout my university studies I became involved in numerous research studentships to develop my critical appraisal, practical and analytical skills, knowing they would be beneficial as a practising vet. One study I carried out explored chronic stress in Border Collies using hair cortisol as a biomarker that sparked my interest in small animal neurology. I explored neurology further as a final year rotation at the RVC and enjoyed working through neurology cases with the specialists such as Elsa Beltran, an Associate Professor, who became my BSAVA PetSavers supervisor. It has been a humbling experience to complete this study with her guidance and wisdom alongside the support of Dr Irina Gramer, an oncology specialist at the RVC.
What are the key aims of the research?
Lymphoma is the most common neoplasia in cats, accounting for approximately one-third of all cases. It can be defined by its anatomical location, histologic criteria and immunophenotypic characteristics. Anatomical locations include intestinal, mediastinal, multicentric, extra-nodal and the central nervous system, but lymphomas can arise wherever lymphoid tissue is present, often making the anatomical subdivision difficult to determine. Clinical signs depend on which body system is involved. Neurological signs can be attributed to primary lymphoma of the nervous system but are more commonly associated with extradural lymphoma that involves local nervous tissue or secondary metastasis from other body systems. One study reported the nervous system was involved in 12.8% of cats with lymphoma, usually as part of a generalised lymphoma involving one or more other body systems. Nervous system lymphoma can be overlooked due to its relative infrequency compared to intestinal, mediastinal, multicentric and cutaneous presentations.
Data is lacking that explores the neurological signs associated with lymphoma, to help guide clinical decision-making. The aim of this retrospective study was to assess the different forms of lymphoma, especially those involving the nervous system, and review their clinical features and diagnostic findings in the hope of offering a clearer evidence base for primary care and referral practitioners.
Will your research serve as a foundation for other studies in the field?
The study has opened many opportunities to deepen our understanding of feline lymphoma, especially those cases with neurological involvement. I hope future studies will build on these findings and evaluate the preferred diagnostic tests for different forms of feline lymphoma, any prognostic indicators and the efficacy of therapeutics.
What stage of the research are you at and what will happen next?
After collecting an enormous data set from 255 cats with lymphoma, I have completed the data analysis and have began interpreting the information. The preliminary findings were presented at BSAVA Congress this year. The next goal is to collate all of the information in a format that is easily accessible and valuable for practising vets.
What does this research mean to you personally and what have you gained from it?
The support of BSAVA PetSavers and clinicians at the RVC to facilitate this research has been an insightful and valuable experience for me. The opportunity to present my preliminary findings to peers at the BSAVA Congress was very rewarding and has given me the confidence and communication skills to continue using research to increase my clinical impact on small animal medicine. It has proved that even vets in primary-care roles can get involved in research projects and make a difference. I’d like to personally thank BSAVA PetSavers for their commitment to creating opportunities for vet students and early career vets to develop these essential skills. It has been a humbling and rewarding experience to complete this study and deeply rewarding knowing it may positively benefit vets in their planning and confidence with cases of feline lymphoma.
What is your favourite aspect of your work, and what have been the biggest challenges?
At first, I was daunted by the huge data set I had collected, but I actually found the data analysis the most enjoyable and rewarding part of the project. There was something very satisfying about seeing the data sheet become numbers and figures that will eventually become an evidence base for other clinicians, in turn benefiting cats. It was a time-consuming process to search through hundreds of clinical records to identify the population of 255 cats that were diagnosed with lymphoma meeting the inclusion criteria. However, the completion of this huge data set that documented so many different clinical features and diagnostic findings was an incredible feeling because few studies have such a large population size!
What advice would you give to vets or vet students considering carrying out clinical research for the first time?
When you enter your clinical rotations and first job as a vet, you will have questions whirling around your mind on a daily basis, and will need to find the answer from somewhere. It surprised me how often I’ve done extra reading on a case and found that there is little data or evidence out there to help guide your next steps. This is where research skills can be incredibly helpful in advancing your clinical practice and knowledge, ranging from critically appraising data, literature reviews or performing your own research projects to find the answers! My advice would be to use every opportunity to develop these skills and you will find it very rewarding knowing your work is being used to improve the health and welfare of pets.