Dr Clare Hughes
Dr Clare Hughes is a senior lecturer at Cardiff University’s connective tissue biology laboratories.
What does your work involve?
Over the past 25 years my research work has focused on the study of cartilage, which is the part of a joint that cushions the end of our bones. I have a specific interest in osteoarthritis, a disease characterised by the breakdown of cartilage. Osteoarthritis is a disease in which an important substance called aggrecan, found in cartilage, which is is destroyed by enzymes (aggrecanases). In my lab we make monoclonal antibodies (laboratory-produced proteins that scientists use to detect and identify a single substance e.g. aggrecan) and recombinant proteins (laboratory-produced substances e.g. aggrecanases) to understand the mechanisms underlying the destruction of cartilage.
How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?
I have been associated with Arthritis Research UK for many years. My initial work on cartilage degradation began as a PhD student at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology in London. I spent five years in the USA and returned to the UK as a postdoctoral scientist funded by Arthritis Research UK at Cardiff University. Thanks to a fellowship, I secured a lectureship position at the university and have continued to be successful with grant applications. Adding up, Arthritis Research UK has funded my work for the past 18 years.
What’s the most important thing you have found out in the past 12 months? And why?
We have discovered a new modified aggrecanase (enzyme) in synovial tissue (obtained from joint replacement surgery) from patients with osteoarthritis. We have produced this modified aggrecanase in the laboratory and made antibodies, and hwe ave identified that the enzyme is made in the synovial tissue lining the joint cavity. We are developing techniques to detect the enzyme in body fluids that may become a useful biomarker of the disease. This discovery has added to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the destruction of cartilage.
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 the understanding of the disease mechanisms underlying the degradation of cartilage and that this research will enable the development of disease-modifying treatments for osteoarthritis.
What do you do in a typical day?
A typical weekday morning starts with a loud shout up the stairs to waking up the teenagers, an essential mug of coffee, the school run and an early arrival at work. A short period, before the arrival of the research group and university students, allows me to keep on top of my email correspondence. My day is then divided between research (planning experiments, on a good day participating in the lab work at the bench, reviewing manuscripts and preparing grant applications) and teaching (lectures and workshop, supervision of undergraduate research projects, supervision of PhD students and administrative duties).
What is your greatest research achievement?
Producing a set of unique monoclonal antibodies that were a pivotal tool in discovering the enzymes responsible for the degradation of aggrecan in cartilage. These antibodies continue to be used in our laboratories and in laboratories around the world.
Why did you choose to do this work?
In my second year at university I took a year out to work in a research laboratory and was lucky enough to secure a place in the biochemistry division at The Kennedy Institute. The environment was inspirational and I must thank my early mentors Tim Hardingham, Tony Ratcliffe, Roger Ewins and Fatemeh Saed-Neja,d as I think they inspired me to continue my university studies and progress to a career in academia.
Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?
Having devoted many years to this field of research it is difficult not to think about how your own work may in the future help people with arthritis. As my research may not take immediate effect to help those affected by arthritis we make efforts to support them through public engagement and fundraising activities. The Arthritis Research UK Biomechanics Centre at Cardiff University, in collaboration with the local fundraising branch, has hosted patient days at the university, and I have raised money for the charity running the Cardiff Half Marathon.
What would you do if you weren’t a researcher?
I would have to spend my time in the outdoors, as I love the challenge of any endurance sport.
Most Friday evenings as a family we head off to the Gower Peninsula. We all thoroughly enjoy the outdoors and fresh air. The Gower gives us all an opportunity to go sports mad: surfing, cycling, running, hiking and swimming, and where we can relax and unwind.