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Dr Cathy Holt

Dr Cathy HoltCathy Holt is a reader in biomechanics and orthopaedic engineering at Cardiff University School of Engineering. She is a chartered engineer, fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and team leader for Biomechanics Motion Analysis and Rehabilitation at the Arthritis Research UK Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre.

What does your work involve?

My time is split between education, research and administration. I teach biomechanics to engineering students and trainee orthopaedic surgeons. My research interests are in biomechanics and orthopaedic engineering specialising in analysis and classification of joint function and novel motion capture applications. I supervise early stage researchers, fostering cross disciplinary research to understand the consequence of joint disease in relation to joint function and pain. My research ethos is to combine research into biomechanics, biology and rehabilitation to provide a route to improving diagnostics, treatment and therapy for osteoarthritis. As team leader I promote and manage multidisciplinary research across six departments.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

In 2009 Arthritis Research UK awarded a Centre of Excellence to Cardiff, which invested a significant level of funding into osteoarthritis research. Prior to this, my funding was from industry, the Engineering and Physical Sciences and the Medical Research Councils and a Royal Academy of Engineering/Leverhulme Trust senior research fellowship.

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

Teamwork is challenging and rewarding. Sharing a strong vision with colleagues provides a powerful catalyst to develop novel research and motivates me to focus on positive impact whilst overcoming the practical challenges of interdisciplinary, clinical studies involving NHS patients.

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

The centre’s mission is about treatment, diagnosis and rehabilitation of arthritis via interdisciplinary research, investigating links between mechanical loading, joint function, pain and inflammation. This provides a platform for a large number of researchers to translate their research for clinical benefit. My team are working towards providing orthopaedic surgeons with surgical planning tools for patients with arthritis who are undergoing high tibial osteotomy to realign their knee forces. We are developing tools to improve decision making for clinicians who are treating knee replacement patients. We are working with others to determine the link between pain, inflammation and biomechanical loading in the arthritic joint, looking for novel osteoarthritis biomarkers and developing imaging and modelling to quantify joint stress during loading activity.

What do you do in a typical day?

During semesters, teaching, tutorials and student project supervision competes with my administrative duties, school commitments and managing the Arthritis Research UK Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre which involves research team meetings, clinical liaison, supervising PhD students and working with colleagues across the university. Out of semester, there are conferences, project supervision and grant applications to translate centre studies, and peer reviewing. I juggle with lots of competing demands whilst not losing sight of why I am there in the first place – to contribute to society and help towards providing more effective healthcare!

What is your greatest research achievement?

From establishing a motion analysis lab, then being awarded funding from industry and the research councils, to establishing the Arthritis Research UK Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre. I stuck with my vision; working with patients in the lab and the challenges of ethical approval, then building a research reputation that contributed towards the centre. This could not happen without support from orthopaedic surgeons physiotherapists, patients and a team of enthusiastic researchers who share the vision.

Why did you choose to do this work?

I was a tribologist, modelling lubrication of aerospace gears; great for learning research skills but not personally fulfilling. I was given the opportunity to establish a motion analysis laboratory, working with clinicians and patients. I applied my engineering skills across the disciplines working towards healthcare research.

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

Yes, all the time. Having worked with patients I can see the clear need for my research to be linked with provision of targeted healthcare to ensure that they get the best treatment and outcome in terms of pain reduction and joint function. The centre must work as a team, driven by the vision of improved patient care. This is challenging but we can achieve much more collectively than working as individuals.

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

I would love to have been a dancer. When I was younger my “skills” and enthusiasm on the dance floor kept me fit. I can’t help thinking now that my painful knees and torn meniscus are a direct result of the youthful dedication to my art!

About Cathy

I enjoy walking and running the two whippets. Holiday’s in the UK with friends, family and the dogs are a great distraction at the end of busy teaching semesters. Watching contemporary dance and ballet is relaxing and uplifting. I am in awe of the dancer’s ability to control movement and create energy and beauty.

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Spring 2012, issue 156.

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Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.