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Dr Daniel Tonge

Dan TongeDr Daniel Tonge, based at Nottingham University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, has a PhD studentship from Arthritis Research UK.

What does your work involve?

I'm a molecular biologist working at the University of Nottingham investigating changes in the quadriceps (thigh) muscle that may contribute towards, or accelerate the development of, osteoarthritis of the knee.

My work involves extracting DNA from samples of muscle and performing complex analyses on it to identify changes in the expression patterns of various genes. The overall aim is to assess whether any of these expression changes may be responsible for changes in the thigh muscle associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

It has been three years since my funding started. As well as providing funds for the reagents and chemicals with which I perform my experiments, Arthritis Research UK also provide funding to disseminate and discuss findings with other scientists at specific osteoarthritis conferences, most recently in Quebec City, Canada. The opportunity to meet regularly with other scientists and share our findings is key to advancing our knowledge of osteoarthritis as a whole.

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

The most exciting finding over the past 12 months has been that some well-characterised models of knee osteoarthritis show changes in their thigh muscle during both the initiation (start) and progression of the disease. This is potentially very exciting in terms of our understanding of the disease. Further assessment of these changes may help to explain why many people with knee osteoarthritis have weakness in their thigh muscles and the relevance of this.

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

During the course of my Arthritis Research UK funding, I'm hoping to assess changes in the thigh muscles of some of the established knee osteoarthritis disease models. This will allow an informed choice to be made on which model best mirrors the muscle changes we see in humans and help to ensure that any findings are relevant to human health and disease.

Following on from this, I'm hoping to understand some of the signalling events that occur in the body which may be responsible for the changes in the thigh muscle observed in people with knee osteoarthritis. This may highlight particular signalling molecules that could be targeted by new medicines.

What do you do in a typical day?

A typical day for me is split between the laboratory and office. In the laboratory my time is spent preparing DNA from samples of muscle, setting up new experiments to measure various genes or developing and validating new assays (tests). In the office I spend time analysing data using a series of computer packages, maintaining detailed laboratory notes and keeping abreast of the most up-to-date research. Some of my time is spent writing scientific publications which appear in various journals and allow scientists to exchange their findings.

What's your greatest research achievement?

My greatest achievement to date has been to read some of the DNA sequence (the order of DNA bases A, C, T and G) which codes for a well-known gene family responsible for the contraction of muscle. The DNA sequence of this gene family was previously unknown in the Dunkin Hartley guinea pig – a strain of guinea pig that naturally develops osteoarthritis. This particular finding has paved the way for the development of sensitive tests, allowing us to assess and characterise very subtle changes in muscle occurring around the time of osteoarthritis development.

Why did you choose to do this work?

I graduated with a first-class degree in Biomedical Sciences in 2003 before undertaking a doctorate in molecular biology at The University of Nottingham under the direction of Dr Tim Parr, funded by Arthritis Research UK. I've always had an interest in both human pathologies and molecular biology, so the opportunity to study the molecular changes associated with osteoarthritis was perfect!

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

Yes I do, it's my main motivation. However, as a scientist, I don’t get many opportunities to speak directly with patients. My work is focused on better understanding the disease process and in the identification of potential targets with which drugs can be directed.

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

I’d like to own a country pub in a picturesque village with real ales, locally sourced foods and a roaring log fire.

About Dan

I enjoy good food, good beer and walks in the country with my wife, Laura, who's also a scientist!

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Spring 2011, issue 152.

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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.