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Dr Cameron Brown

Dr Cameron BrownDr Cameron Brown is an Arthritis Research UK career development fellow and university research lecturer at the University of Oxford.

What does your work involve?

My group is doing research into joint disease, primarily osteoarthritis. We look at the relationships between structure and function in joint tissues to try to find out how they work on tiny, miniscule scales, understand how they change with diseases such as osteoarthritis, and how we might be able to use these changes to improve diagnostics and treatment.

We are mainly focussed on cartilage, bone and tendons, but also look at some other interesting biological materials like spider silk and ivory.

My fellowship from Arthritis Research UK is to develop a promising new diagnostic technique called near-infrared spectroscopy for arthroscopy (a type of keyhole surgery used both to diagnose and treat joint problems.) Early assessment of osteoarthritis, and of tissue repair, means that early, focussed treatments could be developed and implemented, delaying or even preventing the pain and disability of late-stage disease.

It could also help surgeons decide which type of surgery to perform, depending on the amount, and type, of cartilage degeneration.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

I was awarded an Arthritis Research UK career development fellowship last year. It has given me a great opportunity to start building a research team that can translate fundamental science to help patients with joint disease.

What’s the most important thing you have found out in the past 12 months? And why?

Using the near-infrared region of the light spectrum, we developed an algorithm that can quantify early chemical changes in cartilage with osteoarthritis. If we can translate this to the clinic, it will be a big step forward for arthroscopy, moving it from a qualitative to quantitative tool.

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

With the increasing interest in treating osteoarthritis at its earliest stages, and the development of new treatment procedures targeting this early degradation, comes a need to diagnose and characterise tissue beyond what is currently possible with arthroscopies and x-rays.

My fellowship aims to fulfil this need, providing new tools for characterising joint tissue both in clinical practice to aid treatment decisions, and in the laboratory to aid the development of new treatments.

What do you do in a typical day?

I don’t really have a typical day – perhaps I need to be more organised! I spend a lot of time writing and editing, yelling at lines of code on my computer, analysing results and playing in the laboratory. I’m spending more and more time in meetings lately, but it can be exciting to explore new ideas with people from different research backgrounds.

What is your greatest research achievement?

I’m looking forward to being able to answer this question with the outcome of my Arthritis Research UK-funded fellowship. I’m proud of what I have been able to achieve so far, but looking at some of the amazing things people are doing around the world, I’m not sure I’m privileged enough to label my own research as ‘great’.

I have discovered some interesting mechanisms that underpin the phenomenal properties of spider silk, and more recently some toughening mechanisms in tendon and ivory. As well as giving us a basic understanding of how these materials work, this understanding will allow us to make better synthetic materials that can be used for things like musculoskeletal tissue replacement.

Why did you choose to do this work?

I originally trained as an engineer but spent a lot of time working in physics and materials science laboratories. I’m now working in a clinical department, which brings some interesting new problems and possibilities. I think I fell into this field rather than being driven towards it.

One of the main things that made me want to stick with this work was the opportunity to balance interesting and fundamental science with work that can make an immediate and positive impact on people’s lives.

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

One of the great things about working on an orthopaedic hospital site is that you feel more connected to the clinical needs that drive your work. Speaking with patients at a recent ‘patient awareness day’ was rewarding and humbling at the same time. We have a lot of work to do.

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

I think I would be a park ranger in Australia.

About Cameron

The UK has some beautiful countryside and I enjoy spending time out in it with my family and my dog. I like playing the guitar, despite being rubbish at it, and really need to get back into boxing as academic life is a bit too sedentary.

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