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Dr Marcello Riggio

Marcello RiggioDr Marcello Riggio is a senior lecturer in molecular microbiology at Glasgow Dental School.

What does your work involve?

My time is divided between research, teaching and administration. I'm head of the Infection & Immunity Research group at Glasgow Dental School and teach biomolecular sciences to undergraduate dental students and on MSc courses. I've had a longstanding interest in the development of improved molecular diagnostic tests for identifying microorganisms in clinical specimens. I'm particularly interested in the role of oral bacteria in systemic infections. A major area of my research lies in identifying, the bacteria associated with biofilms on the surface of infected prosthetic hip joints using both culture-dependent and culture-independent methods, in a study currently funded by Arthritis Research UK. I have recently applied this approach in investigating the microbial basis of various forms of canine arthritis.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

I was awarded a three-year Arthritis Research UK project grant, which commenced in June 2005, to determine the bacteria associated with infected prosthetic hip joints.

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

Narrowing down the number of bacteria most likely to cause prosthetic hip joint infections from potentially hundreds to no more than a handful of species. In particular, we have compelling evidence to suggest that one particular species is a prime candidate that may be orchestrating the infection. Future research could involve learning how this species can cause such an important infection.

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

The data from our research project will give us a good understanding of the bacteria associated with such infections and we may also learn about the ways in which these infections start. The results will help to suggest ways of preventing joint infections. Current national guidelines don't recommend antibiotic prophylaxis during invasive dental procedures for patients with prosthetic hip or knee joints, but many orthopaedic surgeons request such cover. We hope that our research can provide guidance on the methods to be adopted by clinicians in the treatment of such infections.

What do you do in a typical day?

No two days are the same, except that they're all extremely busy. But during the course of a typical week I carry out a wide variety of tasks. These include writing and reviewing research grant applications and research papers for publication, holding laboratory meetings to gauge progress with current research projects, and attending meetings of various committees on which I serve both locally and nationally. Having responsibility for postgraduate research students means that I have to deal with any problems which arise (which, fortunately, isn't too often).

What's your greatest research achievement?

It's very difficult to choose one particular piece of research. But if the results obtained from our Arthritis Research UK study can help to reduce or prevent prosthetic hip joint infections, then that would, in my opinion, be my greatest research achievement.

Why did you choose to do this work?

Prior to this study, our knowledge of the bacteria that cause prosthetic hip joint infections was poor. We adopted a unique approach to investigating the bacterial aetiology of prosthetic hip joint infections which would allow us to identify bacteria that can't be grown under laboratory conditions and even those which may not yet have been discovered. It was exciting to be able to gain a clearer picture of which bacteria may be causing this extremely painful and costly clinical problem.

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

As a non-clinical academic, I'm privileged to observe how scientific discovery can potentially be translated into improved patient care and treatment. I hope that my contribution to understanding the microbial basis of prosthetic hip joint infection will ultimately lead to the development of preventive measures to combat this important clinical problem.

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

I'd like to be a lawyer, as I imagine this would exert the mind in a completely different way from science and yet still be equally challenging.

About Marcello

I'm married with two teenage children. In my spare time, I enjoy playing football, in particular the staff–student games where the staff team actually wins! I support Middlesbrough FC, a pastime that hasn't been without its trials and tribulations over the years. I'm a self-taught computer 'expert', and hugely enjoy building and repairing PCs and fixing software problems.

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Spring 2008, issue 140.

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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.