Dr Blandine Poulet
Dr Blandine Poulet is an Arthritis Research UK foundation fellow at the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London.
What does your work involve?
My current work is trying to understand what happens during osteoarthritis. In this disease, cartilage, the tissue that lines the end of the bones to protect them during movement, is broken down.
Many factors are known to impact upon joint health; joint injury, as well as ageing and genetics, are widely believed to be major determining causes of osteoarthritis. My work explores how these factors interact with growth factors – molecules that can directly stimulate cells – in order to determine new ways to prevent cartilage loss during osteoarthritis.
How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?
I have been very lucky so far and privileged to have been supported by Arthritis Research UK for four years straight after finishing my PhD, first as a postdoctoral research fellow for one year at the Royal Veterinary College in London. It allowed me to write and be successful in obtaining a foundation fellowship for three years, which is about to end. This was a great opportunity that I used to start my own lab at University College London.
During these three years I have also obtained an equipment grant to build my research group further (and a very fruitful visit to the University of Melbourne in Australia), and I was recently awarded a three-year project grant.
What’s the most important thing you have found out in the past 12 months? And why?
In the past 12 months I have found that the way the cartilage is broken down is different depending on how osteoarthritis is initiated. This emphasises the need to categorise osteoarthritis into subtypes of disease.
What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?
I hope that my research will contribute to understanding why osteoarthritis develops and how we can provide better treatment. As a fellow, this funding will also contribute to establishing my career as an independent investigator in arthritis research.
What do you do in a typical day?
I usually start by checking my emails with a cup of tea. My day is then shared between meetings with academic peers or students, networking events, reading the scientific literature and writing (papers or grants), planning and performing lab experiments.
But my favourite part of the day is when I am ready to analyse results and discover whether the initial hypothesis was correct or not. At that moment, I am the first person in the world to know something new about how the joint functions and reacts (or fails to!).
What is your greatest research achievement?
My greatest research achievement is describing a new way to study osteoarthritis induced by traumatic events, by squeezing a mouse knee to a level that will not break any bones or ligaments. This allowed for the first time to separate the different phases of osteoarthritis, such as the formation of cartilage damage and its progression with time.
This separation is vital in understanding what makes an injury become worse to the point of complete deterioration of the joint that is seen during osteoarthritis.
Why did you choose to do this work?
I chose to be a scientist because I have always been fascinated by how the body works. Biology at school was always my favourite subject and the one I excelled at. The fact that osteoarthritis is such a widespread disease that will affect an increasing number of people over the next few years makes this research area very relevant.
Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?
Yes, this is the aim: to help people overcome this disease, or at least provide some relief. Everyone should be able to walk, run, play, dance, etc. That’s what life is about, isn’t it?
What would you do if you weren’t a researcher?
Science has always been my calling, but if I wasn’t a researcher I would have done physiotherapy. Otherwise, working in my own small organic farm in the south of France wouldn’t be so bad. This would keep my scientific mind busy by devising new, better methods for sustainable farming and would combine my love for sunny, fresh air, the environment and good, healthy food. (And in the south of France where I grew up.)
I try to exercise a little, at the moment limited to a quick jog in the park. I enjoy travelling as much as possible around the world; I visit my parents in the south of France as often as I can. Another passion of mine is food: I eat out in London as much as possible, but always in good company.