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Dr Sam Webster

Sam WebsterDr Sam Webster is a lecturer in anatomy at the Swansea Clinical School at the University of Wales in Swansea.

What does your work involve?

I'm a lecturer at the University of Wales, Swansea, teaching anatomy and embryology to students of a new post-graduate medicine degree, and researching the possible uses of a cartilage stem cell in cartilage repair. I've been implanting these cells into cartilage wounds in a lab environment and comparing their responses with those of 'normal' chondrocytes. I'm interested in whether they're as good as (or better than) the cells used routinely in autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI). One advantage of these stem cells is that you'd need very few to repair damaged cartilage. It's likely that they're the same cells that originally made the articular cartilage and are lost when the cartilage is damaged.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

This study began in April 2003.

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

It seems that under the right conditions the cartilage stem (or progenitor) cells will fill a wound very rapidly – far more rapidly than other cartilage cells. The cartilage they produce is similar to the cartilage produced following ACI.

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

During this project we've already found out more about this new cell type and are looking forward to possible future clinical applications. By the end of the project we'd hope to have begun to learn how to get the best from these stem cells within the wound environment.

What do you do in a typical day?

A large part of my day is spent preparing for teaching for the next few weeks or months. The medicine course in Swansea is in its first year, so we have a lot of work to do. I moved from Cardiff University to Swansea earlier this year, and we're still in the process of setting up new laboratories. At the moment I'm working with an engineering PhD student with whom I'm collaborating on a new project. I often meet other researchers with diverse interests with which we hope to find common ground for future cartilage research. The Swansea Clinical School is an excellent environment for this as it has brought together people from many science and medical backgrounds to teach, and we have strong ties with the NHS Trust hospitals.

What's your greatest research achievement?

This year I presented my work at the International Cartilage Repair Society meeting in Belgium and was a runner-up for a research excellence award, which was a big surprise.

Why did you choose to do this work?

My degree introduced me to research and science as a job, and I've never looked back. I worked with cartilage during my PhD, and since then I've seen articular cartilage repair as an area in which science has yet to produce definitive solutions for the range of joint diseases prevalent in the world.

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

Often. I know many people with joint diseases: my father now has a prosthetic hip (which has helped his golf no end), for example. I've seen the pain and the problems in mobility that result from these diseases, and I'm aware of how common they are. I see real problems for younger patients for whom joint replacement isn't a solution and particularly in athletes in the triathlon and cycling clubs that I'm a member of. They've been through multiple surgical operations with variable success.

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

I'd probably have a go at being a full-time mountaineer.

About Sam
I was an avid rock climber until my son was born. Now my spare time is family time. I still climb rocks and mountains occasionally and will do more in the future. I'm a member of the Cardiff Triathletes, whose website I maintain, among others.

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