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Dr Bahaa Seedhom

Bahaa SeedhomBahaa Seedhom is a reader in bioengineering at the University of Leeds

What does your work involve?

I must explain that I'm now semi-retired but work on a part-time basis. My group, which formerly belonged to the musculoskeletal section led by Professor Paul Emery, has now merged with the tissue engineering group of the department of oral biology in the Leeds Dental Institute. The merger has been a most logical step; collaboration between our two groups over the past 15 years has been fruitful and resulted in Master and Doctoral theses and joint publications in peer-reviewed journals. The collaborative work continues in exciting translational research in the areas of tissue engineering (primarily of ligaments and cartilage) and computer-assisted surgery of joint replacement.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

Arthritis Research UK has generously funded my research since 1968, for which I'm most grateful.

What’s the most important thing you've found out in the past 12 months? Why?

The most important finding was an observation about the arrangement of cells in cartilage. Chondrocytes (cartilage cells) were thought to occur in groups of different numbers, but the observation, which we made in bovine cartilage and published last year, was that chondrocytes generally occurred in pairs. The significance of this pairing may lie in the fact that the cells in a pair could well be functionally interdependent. Should this be the case in cartilage of different species, especially in human cartilage, it should influence the methods developed to study the metabolic activities of chondrocytes. These studies are generally undertaken on isolated chondrocytes, and our understanding of their behaviour could therefore be incomplete or even incorrect. As our understanding of chondrocytes' behaviour is central to the cell-based therapies of cartilage defects, a limited or incorrect understudying of chondrocytes' behaviour would render such therapies less effective.

What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?

Arthritis Research UK funding is vital for the continuation of employment of research colleagues and of maintaining research projects – without the flow of finance, projects come to a grinding halt.

What do you do in a typical day?

As I'm not now shackled with any administrative activities, my work is mostly research related, supervising research and participating in writing/editing colleagues’ documents, whether these be papers, scientific reports or grant applications.

What's your greatest research achievement?

In the area of prosthetics, a system for reconstruction of ruptured ligaments, and in the area of applied research, formulation of a hypothesis on the role of mechanical factors in the development of osteoarthritis.

Why did you choose to do this work?

The choice was driven by a desire to put my engineering skills into use in the medical field. Human joints and their constituent structures were an appropriate starting point; joints are engineering bearings in every sense except for being living structures and hence much more complex. Like many of my fellow bioengineers I received immense encouragement from my boss, the late Professor Verna Wright, who was an innovator and among the most adventurous in his generation of medical professionals.

Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?

Actually this is what you'd habitually do if you work in this area of research – nearly all the studies undertaken by my group have been set up to tackle an arthritis-related issue. For instance, prosthetic joints are designed to treat folk at the end stages of the disease with virtually destroyed joints. Prosthetic ligaments, as another example, are intended for the reconstruction of ruptured ligaments in order to restore stability to joints. This would hopefully prevent further damage and degenerative changes to the joint that could lead to the development of the disease. Other studies could help by suggesting modification to the lifestyle of folk to keep the joints healthy.

What would you do if you weren’t a bioengineer?

A profession which if it didn't alleviate pain would bring joy to people – maybe I would aspire to be a musician, but I would like to be a consummate one; the life of a second-rate musician is a misery (whereas that of a second-rate scientist is perhaps more tolerable).

About Bahaa

I enjoy listening to classical music, both live performances and at home, including much contemporary music, but I stop when it begins to hurt the ears. I also enjoy reading literature and theological books. I immensely enjoy constructing rock and water gardens in the Japanese style and have built a few. I take interest in Persian carpets and renovation of buildings, which can be trying but the results can be rewarding at times. I'm reasonably competent at cooking.

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Spring 2009, issue 144.

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