Darren Quelch

“I’m one of those people who genuinely enjoys going to work!”

– Varied training and experiences to tackle addiction research

My career has been considerably varied, leading me through diverse experiences, which have shaped my professional journey. I started my academic life as an undergraduate biochemistry student with a placement in a neurosciences pharmaceutical company. From there I completed my pre-clinical PhD in neuropsychopharmacology. I was fortunate enough to be offered a post-doc position in the same group and got to try my hand at clinical research, working with individuals living with alcohol dependence. During this time, I was surrounded by a hugely inspiring team, many of whom were addiction psychiatrists and pharmacologists. With careers like theirs in my mind, I went on to complete medical training and started working as a clinician. After 4-5 years, I started to miss the creative thinking and freedom of thought that is inherent to academia. So, in 2022 after lots of deliberation, I decided to return to research and started job hunting.

A lack of awareness and limited service provision often leads to repeated hospital admissions and long-term care placements

I was a bit of an unconventional choice for my current role but thought I would try my luck and apply. It turns out that confessing you’re not a bad baker during an interview works wonders! I’ve now been part of the Addictions Research Group at the University of South Wales since Feb 2022 and haven’t looked back. My work started by developing educational content for healthcare practitioners around Alcohol Related Brain Damage. ARBD is a poorly understood and often unrecognised condition that is potentially reversible. A lack of awareness and limited service provision often leads to repeated hospital admissions and long-term care placements. Since then, my research has grown. I now work with multiple healthcare and academic partners in areas including alcohol withdrawal and opioid dependence management, service evaluation and development of alcohol care teams, and the development of innovative strategies to improve access to assessment and management of patients living with Alcohol Related Brain Damage. Since joining the group, I have secured both project-specific and fellowship funding in collaboration with an NHS trust.

My varied background allows me to approach projects from a different perspective than most. By combining a pharmacological and physiological evidence base with an understanding of how patients present and are managed, I’m able to work across many disciplines to achieve effective, and implementable results.

Working in the field of addiction can be challenging. Research funding is limited, services are being increasingly stripped back, and the understanding of the complex needs of this population among healthcare professionals and society is often poor. However, all of this means there is lots of work to do – there is a large population at disproportionately high risk of poor outcomes who need advocating for! As such, working in addiction for me is also hugely rewarding. I get to spend lots of time reading about pharmacology and physiology, whilst pursuing practical and translatable research goals that will (hopefully!) improve the lives of a highly stigmatised group. I’ve had the privilege to work for encouraging, ambitious and supportive academics and clinicians, many of whom have been hugely inspiring women, whom I consider role models.

There is still a lot we don’t know about the brain and body’s response following exposure to addictive substances. Furthermore, how the complex institutional and psychosocial challenges this population face influence recovery is not well understood. All of these are drivers for moving towards preventative and pro-active approach, rather than reactive changes.

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