Dr Mike Briggs
Dr Mike Briggs is a senior research fellow and reader in genetics at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester.
What does your work involve?
The research in my lab is focused on understanding how mutations in cartilage genes can cause dwarfism and early-onset osteoarthritis. We use a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses human and mouse genetics, cell biology and biochemistry. In addition to research activities I'm also actively involved in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in the university.
How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?
I was very fortunate to be awarded a five-year research fellowship followed by a three-year extension (1996–2002), which allowed me to establish my own laboratory here in Manchester. Since then, Arthritis Research UK has continued to fund parts of my research through project grants and PhD studentships.
What's the most important thing you have found out in the past 12 months? Why?
Over the last three-and-a-half years we've been using mouse genetics to better understand the disease processes that occur in genetic forms of bone and cartilage diseases. These studies are now coming to fruition, and the last 12 months have been very exciting for us in that we've been able to find answers to questions that wouldn't otherwise be possible using traditional biochemical and cell biology approaches.
What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?
Ultimately I hope that one day soon we'll identify the pathological mechanisms that underpin specific genetic bone diseases and seriously consider ways that we can develop appropriate and effective therapies.
What do you do in a typical day?
As for most academics, my day can be very varied and will almost certainly involve aspects of research, teaching and administration. I have an excellent group of researchers working with me and I like nothing better than sitting down and discussing their most recent and exciting data. In this way, I can share in the buzz of day-to-day research without any of the disappointment of failed experiments! Most of my teaching is in October and April and comprises undergraduate lectures and a two-week long practical in human genetics, and this concentration of teaching allows me to dedicate most of my time to research during the rest of the year. I'm also the coordinator of a European Skeletal Dysplasia Network. Much of my time is spent in writing grants and scientific manuscripts and reviewing those of colleagues.
What is your greatest research achievement?
During my career I've been very fortunate to undertake research that has led to the identification of the first human mutations in two cartilage genes. However, what I'm most proud of is the fact that we've been able to pursue these studies further and use a multidisciplinary approach to determine the disease mechanisms in a number of different human genetic cartilage diseases.
Why did you choose to do this work?
While doing my O levels at school I developed a keen interest in genetics, but it was during my undergraduate degree, when I spent my placement year working with Alan Nicholls and Mike Pope at the Clinical Research Centre in Harrow, that I really became interested in human genetic bone diseases. Not only was it the science itself that interested me, but also the genuine belief that I could hopefully one day make a difference to the lives of people who were suffering from these debilitating diseases.
Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?
Constantly. Our work originates with the patients and families with these diseases and all of the approaches and experiments that we undertake are focused on understanding the disease processes with the long-term goal of eventually developing effective therapies.
What would you do if you weren't a scientist?
I'd have loved nothing better than to have been a professional cricketer and to have opened the batting for Yorkshire. Unfortunately my enthusiasm for the game is far greater than my talent and I suspect that, in reality, had I not got the bug for genetics (and science in general), I'd have been an historian or an archaeologist.
I'm married to Maria and we have three young children – Tiernan, aged 10; Tara, seven; and Nathan, 16 months – and we're very fortunate to live in a village in Cheshire close to the Peak District. Most weekends, weather permitting, we'll go for a walk or bike ride in either the Cheshire or Derbyshire countryside. The kids love walking, particularly if there's a nice pub at the end of it, which invariably there is!
This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Autumn 2006, issue 134.