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Staff Profile: Zainab Sheriff

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Research coordinator, BC Renal network
The BC Renal network encompasses the kidney programs of the province's regional health authorities. The majority of clinician researchers who work within the network may be conducting two or three clinical trials at a given time. But for Zainab Sheriff, who works as a research coordinator, the average is about six or seven simultaneously.  

Being at the hub of BC Renal’s research wheel has exposed Sheriff to a wide array of topics – ranging from the investigation of new drugs or dialysis techniques to the study of rare forms of kidney disease to additional projects beyond clinical trials. Picking a favourite research project is difficult, she says, because each one addresses very different but important issues. 

Her work with Dr. Adeera Levin on a trial to investigate SGLT2 inhibitors is exciting because of its great potential to improve outcomes for many patients. She also finds working with Dr. Sean Barbour on clinical trials in glomerulonephritis rewarding because the research may lead to novel treatments for patients with rare forms of kidney disease, who currently have limited treatment options. 

Regardless of the focus of a research project, the potential impact is what drives Sheriff. “I love that I’m hopefully making a difference in someone’s life,” she says, noting that, although it can take a long time for the deliverables of a trial to be realized, it feels good to have contributed to the advancement. 

“I also love that no day is the same,” says Sheriff. “Things come up out of the blue all the time and so the variety is constantly keeping me on my toes.”

When considering her career options, Sheriff initially thought of doing research by first becoming a nurse or other clinician, or through work in a lab, and didn’t consider the possibility of being a clinical trials coordinator. She studied cell biology and genetics at the University of British Columbia, and began her research journey by providing analytic support for the BC Centre for Disease Control. But when she applied to be a clinical trials coordinator with BC Renal in 2013, this shifted her work away from contributing to a very specific component of a research project, to broadly coordinating the entire trial. Sheriff says that this shift has shown her how there are many different ways to contribute positively to the health care system.

After working on dozens of clinical trials over the past seven years, Sheriff has gained some insights into what makes a trial successful. This includes a principal investigator who is accessible, engaged and excited about the project. Engagement with patients is also critical, she says, emphasizing how important excitement and commitment from patients can be for helping to move a project forward.  

Working closely with so many patients has, in turn, impacted Sheriff. “They all have very different stories, so this job exposes you to people from many different walks of life,” she says. “It really opens your eyes up to different things.”

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