Meet the expert – Professor Brigitte Scammell
Professor Brigitte Scammell is professor of orthopaedic sciences at The University of Nottingham, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the City Hospital in Nottingham and was the first woman in the UK to become a professor of orthopaedics. She was a founding member of the Arthritis Research UK Pain Centre. Can you explain what your work involves?
I work with researchers at all three Arthritis Research UK funded centres in Nottingham (the pain centre, the sports, exercise and osteoarthritis centre and the musculoskeletal ageing research centre) on studies designed to build our understanding of osteoarthritis and develop new treatments.
A key focus of my research is preventing pain after knee surgery for osteoarthritis. Most people do exceptionally well after knee surgery, but it’s vital we try to understand the reasons why it doesn’t work for a small minority of patients.
We’re currently using MRI scans to research whether there's a correlation between the types of chronic pain caused by knee osteoarthritis and changes in the brain. Thirty patients have already had pre-operative MRI scans and they'll each be scanned again after their surgery to enable us to assess if there's a link.
How long have you been funded by Arthritis Research UK?
We’ve been funded by Arthritis Research UK for the last six years. The funding allows us to bring together a team of experts from all over the UK who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work together. It makes a real difference to have a multi-disciplinary team, incorporating orthopaedics, rheumatology, radiology and psychology, focusing on research into arthritis pain.
What’s the most important thing you have found out over the last 12 months? Why?
Our initial findings suggesting a link between the different types of pain experienced by people with knee osteoarthritis and structural changes we can see in their brains through imaging are important.
"Pain is the main symptom. It affects work, sleep and family life. Any breakthrough to help us understand pain will make a real difference."
Pain is the main symptom people with osteoarthritis come to us with. It affects their work, sleep and family life. Any breakthrough to help us understand pain will make a real difference to people with arthritis.
What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?
We’d like to develop an accurate pre-operative screening process to identify patients for whom a joint replacement may not offer the best outcome. We’d then work with these patients to offer alternative and personalised treatment, for example a combination of physiotherapy, behavioural therapy and pain medication. Ultimately we want to be able to offer a better choice of treatments to those at risk of post-surgery pain.
What do you do in a typical day?
I’m not sure I have a typical day! It really depends what day of the week it is as I spend half of my time working as an orthopaedic surgeon for the NHS and the other half on my research and university responsibilities.
On a clinical day I’ll either be with patients in clinic or in surgery. On a university day I look after the academic orthopaedic department. I spend a lot of time working with my nine PhD students, looking at their research and moving it forwards or interviewing medical students as I’m also the admissions sub-dean for the medical school.
What's your greatest research achievement?
My ability to inspire and encourage our team of researchers. I’ve been described as the glue holding things together and I see my role as working with my team to make sure our research is relevant, focused and patient-centred. As researchers we always need to think about why we’re doing what we do. It’s about improving the lives of our patients.
Why did you choose to do this work?
As an undergraduate I knew I wanted to be a surgeon, but I was inspired to specialise in orthopaedics when I worked at the Birmingham Accident Hospital. Orthopaedic surgery appeals to me as, put simply, we can fix people and make them better.
Often the impact on people’s lives is immediate – seeing someone get up out of a wheelchair and walk without pain is wonderful.
I’m also interested in biomechanics. My dad was an engineer and I think some of that rubbed off on me.
How important is it to you that your work helps people with arthritis?
It’s incredibly important. That’s why we do what we do, to transform people’s lives. I get job satisfaction from doing a good job in surgery, but also from undertaking research which has real potential help patients.
Most people have someone close to them who is affected by arthritis. My dad had a knee replacement two years ago at the age of 94. His surgery means he can walk and live independently – he’s a huge inspiration to me.
What would you do if you weren’t a clinician and researcher?
Since I was 13 I’ve only ever wanted to be a doctor.
My husband and I have a smallholding with ducks, sheep, turkeys, chickens, geese and 12 hives of bees, so managing them and gardening, which I love, keeps me busy outside of work.
More than 1 in 6 people struggle with the pain of arthritis every day. Pain may be a common symptom experienced by millions, but it's a deeply complex issue.