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For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org

Dr M Kassim Javaid

Kassim JavaidDr M Kassim Javaid is a lecturer in rheumatology at the MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre at the University of Southampton.

What does your work involve?

Over the past 20 years, scientists at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Resource Centre, University of Southampton, have been at the forefront of research which demonstrates how growth and development in foetal life, infancy and childhood have powerful and long-lasting influences on the risk of adult diseases, including osteoporosis. By studying individuals from two patients cohorts, we've been able to demonstrate that adaptations which the foetus makes when it's undernourished lead to persisting changes in the body's structure, physiology and metabolism, leading to the later higher risk of osteoporosis and fragility fracture.

We've recently demonstrated the potential role of vitamin D during pregnancy as an important factor influencing skeletal growth. We're now actively investigating the underlying molecular mechanisms as well as developing a multi-centre national trial aimed at testing this hypothesis for the first time.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

Arthritis Research UK has been funding me for longer than I thought! Back in 1993, as a third-year medical student, I was awarded the Arthritis Research UK prize in rheumatology. More recently, in 2000, Arthritis Research UK funded me through a three-year clinical research fellowship to complete a PhD under Professor Cyrus Cooper at the MRC to investigate the relationship between a mother' lifestyle and body size with the bone mass of her offspring. Finally, this year I've been awarded a one-year travelling fellowship to work on the role of vitamin D in knee osteoarthritis at the University of California.

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

We've recently shown that poor growth during early childhood leads to a higher risk of hip fracture 50 years later in women, suggesting that the skeleton retains a lifelong memory of growth during the early postnatal period. This research finding is important because it confirms for the first time the link between growth in early life and hip fracture, the most serious complication of osteoporosis.

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

As a result of this travelling fellowship, we'll have a better understanding of how vitamin D also affects osteoarthritis of the knee. With this knowledge, we hope to prevent or reduce the suffering of patients. Also, I hope to develop my research skills while working in the USA and bring this expertise back to the UK.

What do you do in a typical day?

I work in the morning in a general rheumatology clinic, seeing patients with osteoporosis as well as those with arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. In the afternoon, I head off to my research office in the MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre at Southampton. Once there, I usually have a series of meetings with fellow researchers to help coordinate ongoing studies. I then head back to my desk and put together the next stage of work that needs to be done.

What's your greatest research achievement?

I'll never forget the day we were able to demonstrate the link between a mother's vitamin D status in pregnancy and permanent differences in the growth of her child's skeleton. I was fortunate to be able to present this at an international meeting and be awarded the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research Young Investigator Award in 2003.

Why did you choose to do this work?

I enjoy working in the field of osteoporosis research because it involves so many different specialities, from clinical epidemiologists and molecular scientists to structural engineers. It's a vibrant growing field intimately relevant to improving patient care by reducing the burden of fragility fractures. Working at the MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre represented a fantastic opportunity to develop skills in epidemiological research and start my career in academic rheumatology.

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

Yes, this is the core aim of our research: to gain a better understanding of the early causes of osteoporosis and help develop strategies to improve the bone health of the nation. Results from our early-life studies will enable healthcare professionals to better inform mothers during and after pregnancy on how to ensure the best growth for their child's skeleton and reduce their risk of osteoporosis in later years.

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

I would probably split my time between shiatsu for one day, and family, friends and planting trees for the other six days, with dancing Argentine tango in Buenos Aires into the many nights.

About Kassim

Our lovely baby boy takes up most of our time at home now. In those few spare moments, I unwind by dancing Argentine tango with my wife in the kitchen as well as teaching tango at a weekly class. We're also both studying shiatsu in Devon and enjoy walking on quiet beaches and through ancient woodlands.

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Autumn 2006, issue 134.

For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org.
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