Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

Tour of Hope at Southmead Hospital

Group photo of JDRF team, Laura and Dr Gillespie
From left: Lee and Danielle of JDRF, Laura with her JDRF mascot bears Ruby and Rufus, and Dr Kathleen Gillespie

Just before the summer holidays, my daughter Laura and I were lucky enough to be invited to tour some of the research laboratories of Southmead Hospital. The purpose of the tour was to see at first hand some of the work being co-funded by the JDRF to search for a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Regular readers of this blog will know that Laura was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of three, a few years after Gordon, my husband received his own diagnosis of the same disease.

JDRF logo and URLJDRF funds a lot of research projects all around the world, and by chance some of these happen to be based in the hospital that helps us manage Laura’s diabetes. It’s also the hospital in which she was born. So there were lots of good reasons to go along for a look behind the scenes, even though the tour happened to fall the day before we were about to depart to Greece on holiday. I’m very glad I made the slightly reckless decision to abandon our packing and go for it!

What We Saw on our Tour

Photo of Dr Gillespie syringing liquid
Dr Gillespie demonstrates DNA extraction – from a kiwi fruit!

Accompanied by our regional JDRF team, the lovely Lee Newman and Danielle Angelli, we were shown round the labs by Dr Kathleen Gillespie, a researcher in molecular medicine with special interest in the genetic mechanisms underlying immunity. Apparently 50% of the occurrences of T1D are thought to be genetic-related – although it’s by no means straightforward, as there are incidences of identical twins, one of whom develops the disease and the other doesn’t.

Photo of technician with full tray of samples
“And here are some I prepared earlier”

Dr Gillespie introduced us to her cheerful and welcoming team of staff who have dedicated their careers to amazing projects investigating the prediction and prevention of the development of Type 1 diabetes. We toured a series of small laboratories, each with a special set of expensive machinery – but the machinery would be worthless without the intelligence and imagination of the extraordinary staff who operate it. Their kit included some less costly items that you’d find in any kitchen, such as fridges and microwaves. When Dr Gillespie showed us how to extract DNA, she did so on a kiwi fruit!

“Our work does look a lot like cookery sometimes,” said Dr Gillespie. “People who are good at cooking are usually good at lab work too!”

How the Work is Funded

Every research project that goes into the jigsaw of the search for a cure has to be funded separately, in blocks, with submissions made to fundholders in order for the work to continue. The tour made us all aware of the importance of raising funds for the JDRF long-term, so that their work can continue.

We all came away motivated to work harder to raise funds and awareness for JDRF. We were also inspired by the imagination, creativity, positive attitude and dedication of Dr Gillespie, her team, and their equivalents around the world, for helping bring the cure for diabetes ever closer.

Photo of Laura looking at contents of test-tube in lab
“So that’s what DNA looks like!”

My Book Launch in aid of JDRF

Cover of my new book, "Coming To Terms with Type 1 Diabetes"
Cover design by SilverWood Books

This November, to mark World Diabetes Day, I’ll be launching the paperback edition of my book Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, to make more widely available the ebook that I published for WDD last year. A new chapter will be included entitled “Diabetes Is Always With Us”. If you’re within reach of Bristol and would like to come to the event launch at Foyles Bookshop, Cabot Circus, on Thursday 13th November, the eve of World Diabetes Day, please send me a message to reserve you a place at the event. I’ll also send you more details of the launch.

For more information about the JDRF, please visit their website:

For more information about Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, see this page on my website here: Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

9 thoughts on “Tour of Hope at Southmead Hospital

  1. When I met you in January at the SilverWood open day and dinner I didn’t know your daughter and your husband had Diabetes Type 1. How devastating that news must have been for you and your family when you found out Laura has it. She sounds so brave. What a beautiful child. As you say in your blogs, thanks to the NHS and all the wonderful medical support and facilities it is possible to have in this country. Good luck with the launch of your book as a paperback with the additional chapter. If I lived in Bristol I would be at Foyles 🙂

    1. Thank you, Harriet, that is so kind of you. All moral support is gratefully received! It’s not an easy path that we tread, though it’s astonishing (and reassuring) how quickly life with Type 1 diabetes becomes “the new normal”. Laura doesn’t remember life without it, and nor do I, really – I just wish I’d known how carefree her pre-diabetes life was so that I could have appreciated it more at the time! All my worries in those days were things like “will she ever grow any hair?” as she was more or less bald until she was 18 months – and now she has very thick, beautiful hair like spun gold! The diagnosis of T1D – like any serious disease – really does put one’s other worries into perspective!

      1. I bet it puts everything into perspective. Good luck with everything – isn’t Laura so lucky to have such lovely parents?! Do keep me posted. 🙂

  2. I so envy you that tour – so interesting! And was smiling at the bit about cooking – people who are good cooks are good at this kind of research – as I have a friend who excels at both (esp. cakes!) and a sneaky feeling that, coming from a baking ancestry, and wanting as a teenager to go into biological science, I indeed missed my vocation! Ah, well,I still bake cakes …

    1. It was a real privilege, Clare, especially as it was in a fancy new part of the hospital that I hadn’t been to before. (There’s a huge amount of new building going on as they merge the former hospital of Frenchay with Southmead onto a single site.) I can see now why they used to call cookery Domestic Science when I was at school – makes much more sense than the current label of Food Technology, if you ask me!

  3. Glad you and Laura got to do this fun and exciting tour. I’m really looking forward to the paperback edition of Coming to Terms with Type 1 Diabetes as I thought the ebook was a fantastic resource as well as a great read. J

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