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Getting to Know: Cassidy Callahan, Clinical Research Navigator

Ever wonder how medicine and science converge to create new opportunities and new hope for the tiniest patients around the world? Cassidy Callahan, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego’s clinical research navigator, can certainly fill you in. Working in step with investigators and physician-scientists across Rady Children’s research team and partner organizations, Cassidy is a central part of bringing diagnostics, treatments and cures from researchers’ brains to patients’ bedsides. Learn more about what it takes to keep exploration moving forward from the research whiz herself.

What is a day in the life like in your role?

No day is the same as Rady Children’s clinical research navigator! I “live” over on Frost Street with the rest of the research team and wear a collection of hats, including helping investigators design new studies, creating education opportunities for our researchers and research staff, connecting investigators with philanthropic opportunities, and matching potential new trials with the researchers who will lead them. The best part of any day is getting to work with investigators who have an idea but aren’t sure how to turn that idea into research. It’s so exciting to get that peek into the future of pediatric care.

How did you begin working for Rady Children’s?

I got my start at Fresh Start Surgical Gifts, a nonprofit that provides reconstructive surgery to kids from socioeconomically disadvantaged families. The long surgery weekends were held in the Rady Children’s operating rooms and were staffed by amazing volunteer medical staff from Rady Children’s. That was my first taste, more than seven years ago, before officially joining the Rady Children’s family.

What do you think are some of the most exciting research initiatives happening at Rady Children’s right now?

I must give a shout-out to everyone who has contributed to getting the Moderna KidCOVE vaccine trial off the ground. This is exciting for two reasons: 1) Having the opportunity to help our community protect its children and see a way out of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a driver to get up and work hard every day and 2) It harkens back to Rady Children’s origin story as a polio clinic. With this being the first pediatric vaccine trial to be conducted on Main Campus, we are bringing our history full circle.

How can interested families get involved with research studies? What is typically required?

With more than 900 active research studies currently happening at Rady Children’s, there are lots of ways to get involved! The best way to learn more is to search clinicaltrials.gov or email research@rchsd.org. Children aren’t just smaller versions of adults, and their unique physiological differences and development can make them process medications in a different way. That is why it is important to have pediatric research. There are different requirements, or inclusion criteria, depending on the specific study, but a good place to begin is with an interest in improving pediatric care for your child, children in your family and community, and those around the world.

What do you see as being some big areas of opportunity for pediatric health research, e.g., less addressed, foundational research with room for expansion, etc.?

100% gene and cell therapy! We have a team working to make these novel therapeutic techniques available at Rady Children’s and elsewhere. It is so exciting to give children and families a potential solution to devastating genetic diseases through the replacement or correction of mutated or missing genes.

If you were an animal, which animal would you be and why?

I am currently reading “Fuzz” by Mary Roach, so I have to say I would be a macaque monkey in New Dehli, where I could play elaborate tricks on unsuspecting tourists and munch on the fruits left as offerings to Hanuman. I am a very playful person at heart.

You have a month and an unlimited budget to take a dream vacation. Where are you going and what are you doing?

Maybe not for a month, and not on an unlimited budget, but my fiancé and I are planning our honeymoon through Eastern Europe and the Balkans next month. That is a dream-come-true vacation!

What are your words to live by?

“Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I have a very large portrait of her above my dining room table that reminds me of this every morning when I eat breakfast.

What are your three favorite books of all time?

“The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies” by Dawn Raffel; “Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Conner and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World” by Linda Hirshman; and anything by David Sedaris —  he is gold.

If you could create your ultimate concert lineup from your favorite bands and artists, living or dead, who would be on the bill?

I love listening to NPR podcasts and, pre-pandemic, I loved going to live recordings. I would thoroughly enjoy a lineup of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” followed up with “This American Life.”