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For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org

Dr Ruth Davies

Dr Ruth Davies is a specialist registrar and an Arthritis Research UK fellow at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

What does your work involve?

Ruth Davies

My research looks at mechanisms behind increased risk of heart disease in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Coronary artery disease, which leads to heart attacks, is 50% more common in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

There’s evidence that inflammation plays a role in this increased risk. I’m looking specifically at pathways associated with interleukin-6, a protein with inflammatory properties.

My work follows patients with recent onset of rheumatoid arthritis, measuring proteins associated with inflammation in the blood and looking at blood vessels for signs of heart disease, to see if the two are linked.

How long have we been funding you?

I was awarded an Arthritis Research UK clinical research fellowship last year. It has given me a great opportunity to carry out my research and will provide an excellent foundation in my goal of becoming a clinical researcher in rheumatology. 

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

I’ve measured the level of a certain inflammatory protein in blood from people with rheumatoid arthritis. On average, in those people who had heart disease the levels were higher. This gives us a clue that this protein may play a role in the development of heart disease.

My fellowship has given me the opportunity to look at this in more detail and to work out how this protein may play a role.

What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of our funding?

Identifying the biological pathways in heart disease in rheumatoid arthritis could lead to the development of blood tests that can identify high risk patients, which has been highlighted as a major need.

This could allow more aggressive treatment both of traditional risk factors and of inflammation in these patients, therefore lowering their subsequent risk and preventing cardiovascular death. It’d also offer the potential of more tailored treatment for these patients, for example by targeting specific proteins identified by the study.

The funding has also allowed me to become trained in performing and analysing carotid ultrasound. It’s imperative to this project and provides me with an important skill for further research.

What do you do in a typical day?

One of the things I really enjoy about my work is that there isn’t really a typical day; each day is different.

If I have patients coming in, I assess their rheumatoid arthritis, take blood, scan an artery in their neck with ultrasound and then analyse the images. It’s also really important to keep up to date with the literature so I regularly spend time reading and writing (my thesis, papers or grants).

On other days I work in the lab performing experiments, meeting with other researchers and attending meetings. I also do some general rheumatology clinics, which I really enjoy, especially seeing where research can be translated into patient care.

What’s your greatest research achievement?

I’m looking forward to being able to answer this question with the outcome of my fellowship. I have some interesting and encouraging findings so far which may, with further work, help us better understand the link between rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease.

Why did you choose to do this work?

There’s a real clinical need to develop better means of identifying patients who are at high risk of heart disease. What really drives me is seeing my patients and striving towards improving their health.

While working as a trainee rheumatologist I’ve seen patients with rheumatoid arthritis who did not have ‘traditional’ risk factors for heart disease but who’d had heart attacks, which motivated me to explore this field further. 

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

Yes, this is what drives my passion for my work and led me to this field.

Heart disease is one of the major causes of death in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. If I can find blood tests that could identify people who are at high risk, they could be selected for more intensive investigations and possibly treatments, reducing their risk and improving their health.

Being at the interface of high-quality patient care alongside exploration of fundamental questions in inflammatory arthritis is really rewarding.

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

I’ve always loved both science and helping people, so my current role is ideal. I also find psychology really interesting and think mental health has a huge impact on physical wellbeing.

When I was very small, my goal was to become either a petrol-pump attendant or Russian president.

About Ruth

I enjoy hot yoga and dog sledding, just not at the same time! I love spending time with family and friends, as well as travelling and good food.

Back to Meet the expert

Dr Niamh Nowlan

Dr Niamh Nowlan is a lecturer in bioengineering at Imperial College London.

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