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Dr Tracey Toms

Tracey TomsDr Tracey Toms is an Arthritis Research UK clinical research fellow at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley

What does your work involve?

I'm a rheumatology registrar currently in my second year of training. My interest in cardiovascular disease in rheumatoid arthritis led me to step out of clinical training to undertake a period of research. This will enable me to explore some of the mechanisms that may be responsible for cardiovascular disease in patients with rheumatoid arthritis as part of a higher degree (PhD).

Although the vast majority of my working week is focused towards my research project, I continue to have contact with patients both as part of my research project and in routine clinical practice (once-weekly clinics).

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

Arthritis Research UK has provided significant funding to the rheumatology department at the Dudley Group of Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust over the last few years. The early stages of my research were supported by an Arthritis Research UK-funded infrastructure grant, allowing me to get my research project up and running. However, in July 2009 I was awarded an Arthritis Research UK clinical research fellowship, providing sufficient funds to support the remaining two years of my research project.

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

Although I'm sure the forthcoming two years will be full of exciting discoveries, I've already produced some interesting results. We've recently discovered that a large proportion of rheumatoid patients don't undergo rigorous cardiovascular risk assessment and therefore they receive suboptimal medication/lifestyle advice to reduce their cardiovascular risk.

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

I hope that Arthritis Research UK funding will act as a springboard for my career as a clinician and a researcher. In the immediate future it'll allow me to complete my current research project (the effects of cholesterol on cardiovascular disease in rheumatoid arthritis) and gain a PhD.

What do you do in a typical day?

My days have great diversity – one of the wonderful things about research! Many of my mornings are spent recruiting and assessing rheumatoid arthritis patients and healthy controls for my research. I often have an early start to the day to ensure that my fasted research patients (a fasting state is important for some of the blood tests we perform) are assessed at a reasonable hour and can then be provided with breakfast prior to their departure.

The remainder of my day can consist of a variety of activities including the development of laboratory methods, sample analysis, data entry and analysis, and the generation of clinical papers reporting our findings.

What's your greatest research achievement?

As I'm at such an early stage of my career as a researcher the honest answer would be that I'm sure my greatest research achievement is yet to come!

Why did you choose to do this work?

My career path has always been guided by a genuine desire to help people and make a difference to their lives. Although we can have a significant impact through clinical practice, it's research that drives medical advances. Thus, I was keen to embark upon a period of research in order to advance understanding and potentially impact upon the management of a specific problem in the field of rheumatology. Cardiovascular disease in rheumatoid arthritis appeared to be a perfect background for my research.

Cardiovascular disease is common in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and contributes to approximately half of all deaths, thus it had the potential to make a difference. In the general population, high levels of cholesterol are known to increase a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, little was known about cholesterol in the context of rheumatoid arthritis. A greater understanding of the changes in cholesterol and their impact on cardiovascular disease offered an attractive and exciting research project with the potential to make a real difference.

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

Although I spend much of my time either recruiting patients onto my study or analysing blood samples in the laboratory, it's hard to forget the long-term aim of my research and the impact this may have on patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Working in a large rheumatology department reinforces the importance of the work we do and allows me to observe changes driven by research discoveries first hand.

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

I've always had a bit of a creative side and a bit of a sweet tooth, so the perfect job that would allow me to combine these with my love of talking to people would be to run a tea shop.

About Tracey

I think it's important to get a good work/life balance. I like to keep active and enjoy a range of hobbies from painting to scuba diving. I've recently started to learn ballroom and latin dancing. I have two left feet but still enjoy it tremendously!

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Winter 2010, issue 147.

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