Cardiff’s history of anaesthetic discovery is rich. It is not only the invention of the patient controlled analgesia by Professor Michael Rosen that the city has to be proud of – there is much more.
To begin to find out just how much more there is, you need only take a look into the collection of the Department of Anaesthetics, Intensive Care and Critical Care Medicine’s museum.
“I became interested in the history of Anaesthesia mainly because I had finished my exams and was sort of thinking that there must be more I could do and learn,” says Danielle Huckle, curator of the departmental museum. “I ended up researching and writing about anaesthesia in Wales. I was going to write about Cardiff: it’s got such a rich history of anaesthesia that it could be a paper of its own really. I started looking further back and more generally at Wales as a whole.”
Huckle began to present her research at History Society meetings and Professor Judith Hall (who Huckle calls ‘Prof’) picked up on the researcher’s interest in the topic.
“I had noticed that we had this old collection and no one was sure what was going on with it. Prof found me and asked me if I was interested in helping out,” she explains of her first steps in curation. “From there I liaised with Dr Peter Lloyd Jones who is a retired consultant anaesthetist who has taken it upon himself to catalogue all the items and construct a website. He had been trying to look after it on his own.”
The collection within the department is, according to Huckle, one of the biggest in the UK and she felt that it was a shame that its presence was not being broadcast or marketed.
“I’ve slowly realised that it’s not that easy!” she laughs. “I guess you decide how far you want to take something. I thought that I could be peripherally involved in a few activities and dust the odd bit of kit. But after a while I thought, ‘No, we should make this into a proper museum, get accreditation, get some money in and refurbish it, make sure we can do it properly and make it into a good feature.'”
And that’s what she has spent the past several years doing. Huckle is the first to admit that when she began to work on the museum, she did not have the first clue about curation having studied neuroscience and medicine, and later training as an anaesthetist.
“It’s been a real fact finding mission. Everyone I’ve spoken to or sought after for information has been extremely useful. I’ve had lots of information from curators of bigger medical museums,” she explains. “From the Anaesthetic Heritage Centre in London, Trish Willis has been really helpful. There’s also a curator at the Hunterian Museum. Phil Parks is Conservator for the University. There are always people at the University who know more than you.”
The museum is currently housed within the Department but Huckle’s pursuit of more information about collection management has shown her that a room with temperature control and some control over air conditions would be better for the integrity of some of the objects in the collection. Also, in the long term, the museum will be moved, refurbished and the team working on the collection would love to be able to show the collection off to the public in one way or another.
“We’re doing a local schools open day project and we’ve had two pilot events so far with some lovely feedback from students and teachers. Children of 14 or 15 years old who have expressed an interest in science,” she explains. “The basic premise of the day is to split the kids into two groups and in parallel sessions talk about old and new anaesthesia. We take in the old equipment that we’ve got and show the history and how it has improved to what we do now. We’ve got nice access to fibre optic intubation equipment. The kids really like that. We’re doing another one of those in October – hopefully that will be successful.”
In tandem with the schools project, Huckle is working on a storytelling project with Lisa Heledd Jones (Storyworks). Together, Heledd Jones and Huckle com-bined images of artefacts with stories from people who have been part of their development. She cites the example of Professor Michael Rosen who invented the PCA, which is the most widely used post-op analgesia machine in the world.
“Together, we went to his house and got the story from the ideas and concept of how he was thinking. He had observed a different analgesia in childbirth and asked himself why it couldn’t be used elsewhere. We chatted to him about his life. He’s in his 80s,” she explains with great enthusiasm. “We’ve got a great body of audio there. Lisa’s going to do some stories. Hopefully we’ll have a nice little piece that we can show at events if we’re talking about the museum. That’ll be a nice piece of storytelling to showcase the museum.”
Alongside all of her work with the Departmental Museum, Huckle is pursuing a PhD about sepsis – a disease which kills thousands each year.
“It’s quite overlooked as far as research money and public awareness is concerned. The sooner you diagnose severe infection, the better the patient does,” she explains. “The team I’m working with is trying to create a sensor for endotoxin which is found attached to the outer cell membrane of some bacteria.”
Huckle’s research uses molecular imprinting which describes the generation of synthetic receptors through the polymerisation of monomers around a template molecule –in this case the template is endotoxin.
“If we’re able to successfully imprint endotoxin, we will be able to detect it in blood samples and also in the future we will hopefully be able to mop up the endotoxin which make people sick,” she explains. “If we’re able to do that, that would be great. But we’re talking a while in the future.
Huckle has just under two years of her PhD left. After that, she returns to full time anaesthetic training and looking for a consultant job. She’s optimistic about the next few years and with a CV like the one she already has and some very particular career experience, she should be!