Professor Andrew Amis
Andrew Amis is Professor of Orthopaedic Biomechanics at Imperial College London.
What does your work involve?
I run a research group in orthopaedic biomechanics, concentrating on understanding how human joints work and how to treat them when they're injured or affected by arthritis. As a professor I spend a lot of my time processing paperwork, particularly writing applications for funding for our new project ideas, and then research papers about our results, which are usually published in journals of orthopaedic surgery. I also have a full teaching load, which is mostly teaching engineering students about design and mechanics. An important part of my work is presenting the new findings to conferences for orthopaedic surgeons to teach them the latest ideas about how to treat damaged joints. That activity involves a lot of international travel and time away.
How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?
I was first funded by Arthritis Research UK as a post-doctoral research fellow in 1977–78, working for Professor Verna Wright in the Rheumatism Research Unit in Leeds. It provided a vital link between being a research student and then getting a permanent job as a lecturer. Soon after that, I got my first project grant and have enjoyed a series of similar grants ever since.
What’s the most important thing you've found out in the past 12 months? Why?
Last year saw the end of a project in which I had a consultant orthopaedic surgeon studying the stability of the patella (the knee cap). He produced a mass of data about its behaviour and the effects of different surgical procedures. We think that this will have a big effect on the understanding and treatment of this very common problem. It's important because the patella sometimes doesn't move normally, and that can then lead to the joint wearing out.
What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?
My present Arthritis Research UK funding is a project which is studying the fixation of partial knee joint replacements to the bones. If we can design more effective fixations, then surgeons will be more likely to recommend their use, and so that should lead to patients having smaller operations than the total knee joint replacements used most commonly at present, hopefully also leading to better function after the surgery.
What do you do in a typical day?
I spend some days quietly at home, writing research papers, but most often I'm at my office organising the research, being called into the lab to offer advice about an experiment or looking at a computer model of a bone. Other times I may be at a hospital, advising surgeons in the operating theatre about how to use our latest invention, or studying the x-rays later.
What is your greatest research achievement?
I've done a lot of work on the function of knee ligaments and how best to do the surgery to reconstruct them after they've been ruptured in injuries. As well as studies of their strength and function, I find that I'm often asked to lecture about their functional anatomy. I hope that this work, teaching surgeons at a high level, leads to better treatment of their patients.
Why did you choose to do this work?
I've always been fascinated to find out how things work and so I became an engineer, but then I found myself designing aircraft engines for the Vietnam War and questioned why I was doing that. I happened to meet a PhD student called Tony Unsworth (now an eminent Professor in Durham), who introduced me to his work on joint replacements in Leeds, and that seemed both fascinating and far more worthwhile. I find that this work is more interesting than conventional engineering because of the variability and complexity of our living structures and having materials which can mend themselves when damaged or adapt to the loads which we impose on them. At a different level, it is easy to be motivated by work which one hopes will be for the good of others with crippling disease.
Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?
Yes, all the time – that’s why we do it!
What would you do if you weren’t a scientist/researcher?
It’s difficult to imagine something where I’m not busy finding things out. Stepping completely outside of that, as a fantasy job, how about following in the footsteps of David Attenborough, being paid to go to interesting places and meeting amazing wildlife?
These relate to the fantasy noted above, because my wife and I love adventurous travel, particularly in deserts and rainforests, meeting the people and animals. My particular love is coral islands and underwater photography – I’d happily sell the house, buy a yacht and sail away to indulge in these things!
This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Autumn 2009, issue 146.