Dr Mohini Gray
Dr Mohini Gray is a senior clinical lecturer at the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh and an honorary consultant rheumatologist at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh.
What does your work involve?
As a clinician scientist I divide my time between treating patients, research and teaching. As a consultant rheumatologist I run early arthritis clinics, connective tissue and vasculitis
clinics as well as the transitional service for young adults in Lothian. As a researcher I head up a group of like-minded scientists who are interested in understanding how the immune system is regulated and how it goes wrong when patients develop rheumatic diseases. Using this knowledge we are looking for new ways to treat inflammation, which is the root cause of tissue damage. I also teach medical students and hopefully inspire some of them to become the rheumatologists of tomorrow!
How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?
Arthritis Research UK (then called the ARC) sponsored a prize in rheumatology, which I won 25 years ago (as a third year medical student) at King’s College. That prize kindled a life-long passion for the subject and determined the course of my career. They then funded my PhD and post-doctoral studies with three separate fellowships, whilst I continued (in parallel) my training to become a consultant rheumatologist.
What’s the most important thing you have found out in the past 12 months? And why?
I would say that two things stand out for me. The first is that with Arthritis Research UK funding we have now worked out the mechanism by which important anti-microbial substances called alpha defensins, found in human white blood cells, kill bugs and also inhibit inflammation. With this knowledge we will be able to design smaller molecules that might serve as both new anti-inflammatory drugs as well as antibiotics. The second achievement is the understanding that we all have a special subset of white blood cells called regulatory B cells in our bodies which produce small proteins called cytokines that dampen inflammation.
What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?
With a new grant from the Arthritis Research UK we will study these special human regulatory B cells. We will ask what they are specific for, if they are reduced in patients with arthritis and if they can predict who will respond to therapy. If we can isolate them and expand them in the lab we may be able to use them to treat or prevent diseases where the immune system attacks the body.
What do you do in a typical day?
When I am at the hospital I see patients in the clinics, run ward rounds and see referrals from other consultants. When I am at the university I spend most of my time planning research experiments with my team, writing grants and research papers and peer reviewing other scientists’ work. I also teach medical students in lectures and tutorials as well as on Immunology Honours and MSc courses.
What is your greatest research achievement?
All research achievements should be seen as stepping stones,that will eventually lead to a better understanding and treatment for our patients. However, if I had to choose, I would say that discovering the existence of self-reactive regulatory B cells was novel. I hope though that our new data on alpha defensins opens up translational avenues soon.
Why did you choose to do this work?
It’s a privilege to be a doctor and I get enormous satisfaction from seeing people get better. However I strongly believe that until we have a better basic understanding of the pathogenesis of the rheumatic diseases we will not be able to design treatments that lead to a lasting remission from inflammation. This is what drives me to do research in addition to running a clinical service.
Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?
Yes, all the time because although we treat arthritis earlier and more aggressively and have newer biologics, the fact remains that patients rarely achieve remission and are at increased risk of infection. If we could understand what is driving the inflammation that causes so much damage we might be able to design better treatments that lead to lasting relief at a reduced cost to both patient and the NHS.
What would you do if you weren’t a researcher?
I would have liked to pursue a more visually creative career in design or gardening.
As well as gardening I love cooking and caring for my three children (aged 17, 11 and 5). As a family we enjoy travelling and watching films.