Dr Tony Day
Dr Tony Day is a currently a senior scientist at the Medical Research Council's immunochemistry unit in Oxford. Later this year he will take up a professorship at the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester.
What does your work involve?
My lab is interested in the structural organisation of cartilage, in particular how the various molecules fit together. We're also trying to understand basic mechanisms that protect cartilage from breakdown in arthritis. Our work is mostly focused on a family of proteins that interact with a large carbohydrate, termed hyaluronan, which is a major component of synovial fluid. Some of these proteins are crucial for maintaining joint structure, forming large multi-molecular aggregates that provide cartilage with its load-bearing properties. Other members of this family are involved in directing the migration of white blood cells from the circulation into the tissues, a process that, if not correctly controlled, can contribute to joint damage. We're trying to understand the way in which these various proteins work and how they're regulated in the context of inflammation. I'm particularly interested in a protein called TNF-stimulated gene-6, or TSG-6 for short, which is only made in our joint tissues during arthritis. It appears to have an anti-inflammatory effect and help protect cartilage from destruction.
How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?
I was awarded an Arthritis Research UK research fellowship back in 1991 and have had continuous funding of one kind or another from Arthritis Research UK every since. My 'better half', Dr Caroline Milner, was also an Arthritis Research UK research fellow in the 1990s, so for quite a few years we were fully dependent on Arthritis Research UK for paying the mortgage! Caroline and I have worked together for about the last 5 years and currently we're co-holders of an Arthritis Research UK programme grant that funds about half our laboratory.
What's the most important thing you have found out in the last 12 months and why?
We've found that the TSG-6 protein plays a role in inhibiting an enzyme called plasmin, a protease that degrades cartilage, and that this activity can be enhanced by a molecule called heparin, which is made during inflammation. This could represent one way by which TSG-6 can protect cartilage from breakdown.
What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?
Our current Arthritis Research UK-funded research is focused on trying to determine the molecular basis of TSG-6's anti-inflammatory functions. We're hopeful that understanding native protective mechanisms of this kind may be helpful in devising new treatments for arthritis.
What do you do in a typical day?
These days I seem to be spending an increasing amount of my time either writing or reviewing papers and grants. I still get a great buzz when our work is accepted for publication. However, what I enjoy most is discussing new results with members of my research team, which is the closest I get to lab work these days! I also like going to conferences and keeping in touch with our many collaborators worldwide. At the moment quite a lot of my time is taken up with planning the relocation of the lab to Manchester. They say that variety is the spice of life and I think that's what makes research so exciting and satisfying.
What's your greatest research achievement?
It's difficult to choose any one thing, since so much of research is incremental in nature with lots of 'small' discoveries along the way. However, as an Arthritis Research UK research fellow I was the first to determine the three-dimensional structure of a hyaluronan-binding domain, and this has formed the foundation for much of our work over the last 10 years.
Why did you choose to do this work?
I got very interested in science when I was about 10 years old and never really considered doing anything else, apart from perhaps being a rock star!
Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?
Yes, very much so. I believe that basic research of the type we, and others, are doing is likely to lead to a better understanding of arthritis and therefore could lead to new treatments. Last year I joined Arthritis Research UK's research sub-committee and it has been a great privilege to contribute to decisions on what work should be supported.
What would you do if you weren't a scientist?
A rock star or importer of fine wines!
Caroline and I have two children, Josephine (nearly eight) and Georgina (nearly five), who keep us busy. I love all types of music and play the guitar most days – I used to play with a band and also perform as a singer/songwriter, but these days have fun playing along with Josephine, who is learning the piano, and Georgina on percussion! I also enjoy cooking and have recently taken up painting.
This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Autumn 2005, issue 130.