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Dr Duncan Porter

Dr Duncan PorterDr Duncan Porter is a senior lecturer and honorary consultant rheumatologist at Gartnaval General Hospital in Glasgow.

What does your work involve?

My time is split three ways…I spend about half my time looking after patients in hospital, on the day ward or in outpatients; about half my time is spent in various management roles – I chair the regional Rheumatology Managed Clinical Network which aims to make sure that all patients get equal access to the best care possible; and about half my time is spent doing research, mainly into the causes and treatments of rheumatoid arthritis. And, yes, three halves make more than one whole!

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

I've been receiving funding for many years. The charity has been a staunch supporter of clinical research, and especially clinical trials.

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

That undertaking clinical trials is getting harder and harder! And that working as a large team takes a lot of work but delivers results. The ORBIT study is a case in point – we need to recruit about 300 people with rheumatoid arthritis to this trial to establish whether anti-TNF or rituximab therapy is more effective in the treatment of their rheumatoid arthritis. We originally planned to recruit patients in about 15 centres, but we've been encouraged by the enthusiasm of rheumatologists and patients around the country such that we'll probably recruit patients in 30–40 centres. Does that mean recruitment to the study is ahead of schedule? Unfortunately not! There are many reasons why patients and doctors find it difficult to be involved in studies and so recruitment is behind schedule, although we have recruited over 90 patients so far.

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

The ORBIT trial will give us very important information about the best treatment for people with rheumatoid arthritis who require a biological therapy. I'm also involved in some basic science projects that are exploring the causes of the condition, and the nature of the abnormalities that develop in the immune system in people who have (or will develop) rheumatoid arthritis.

In Scotland we have a very exciting project that's recruiting over a thousand people with recent onset arthritis and collecting information from them over the next few years. At the same time we're storing blood that will allow us to do very detailed scientific analysis that will allow us to understand more about which people respond best to which treatments. The study will be a wonderful resource for future research, so I'll be back knocking on Arthritis Research UK’s door looking for more funding!

What do you do in a typical day?

A real mixture – there's always some clinical medicine to keep me sane: seeing patients, phoning them or arranging treatment and tests. However, there are also a lot of meetings and the usual tidal wave of bureaucracy to deal with.

What's your greatest research achievement?

Designing and running the Tight Control in Rheumatoid Arthritis (TICORA) study, which showed that we can make a much bigger impact on rheumatoid arthritis than we had ever thought possible through applying some very simple rules: see the patients frequently, assess their disease activity carefully and increase treatment if the patient’s disease isn't well controlled.

Why did you choose to do this work?

I enjoy it! I've never regretted becoming a doctor for even a moment. It's endlessly rewarding, interesting and demanding.

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

All the time. My research is very ‘applied’ – it's much more to do with how to make people feel better and to have a better quality of life than it is to do with basic science. However, the gap between these is narrowing fast, and I now have much closer links with my lab colleagues so that we can translate their work into things that matter to people with arthritis much quicker.

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

Probably a Christian minister – for a few years I worked part-time so that I could study for a theology degree. I love to read and teach from the Bible, and caring for people spiritually in a church isn’t so different from caring for people medically in the clinic.

About Duncan

I've always loved sport and have played team sport since my early childhood. Unfortunately, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and I've had to reluctantly give up my regular volleyball and hockey. So now it's occasional golf, tennis and pool, mainly played with my 14-year-old son.

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Winter 2012, issue 155.

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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.