Professor Anisur Rahman
Anisur Rahman is professor of rheumatology at University College London
What does your work involve?
I have a very varied job. I'm a clinician, running three clinics per week, covering autoimmune rheumatic diseases, chronic pain and general rheumatology. I spend a lot of time teaching medical students and running the rheumatology teaching course in my hospital. I have a number of research interests, including the molecular biology of antibodies that cause diseases like lupus and the associated blood-clotting condition antiphospholipid syndrome, heart disease in patients with lupus and better ways to look after people with chronic pain. I'm also a member of the medical panel that reviews the Arthritis Research UK patient information.
How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?
My first Arthritis Research UK grant was in 1997.
What’s the most important thing you have found out in the past 12 months? Why?
Antiphospholipid syndrome was originally described as a disease in which antibodies stuck to phospholipid molecules on the surface of cells, and that led to clots, strokes or miscarriages. Over the years it became clear that the antibodies were actually sticking to proteins linked to the phospholipids and that the way in which they cause clots is probably different to the way in which they cause miscarriages.
During the last year my group compared antiphospholipid antibodies from patients who had suffered clots but no miscarriages with antibodies derived from patients who had miscarriages but no clots. We found that these two types of antibody have measurably different effects on cells that we grow in culture in our laboratory. We also found that a fragment of one of the proteins that are recognised by antiphospholipid antibodies can be made artificially in bacteria and shows great promise in being able to block the ability of these antibodies to stop clot formation. Both these lines of research may help us to understand how antiphospholipid antibodies cause disease.
What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?
I hope that my Arthritis Research UK funding will help to enable us to manage the care of patients with rheumatic diseases better. This can be achieved in several different ways. In the antiphospholipid syndrome we're working towards developing new drugs which will hopefully prevent patients getting clots without causing the side-effects that warfarin causes. In the study of heart disease in lupus we're trying to work out which blood tests and scans will accurately identify patients with those heart problems at an early stage so that we can do something to stop the problems worsening. In looking at chronic pain, which is very common and often doesn't respond well to drugs, we're looking at ways in which people can be helped to live with their pain in such a way that they have a better quality of life.
What do you do in a typical day?
On a research day, I'll meet my research team in the laboratory. We try to make our meetings lively, supportive and interactive and find that everyone can contribute ideas. I spend the rest of the day reading and writing papers and grant applications. On clinic days I see patients and also teach medical students. Teaching is one of the most enjoyable activities of my week.
What's your greatest research achievement?
Continuing to contribute to a range of very different fields of research while also maintaining my commitment to teaching.
Why did you choose to do this work?
I owe it all to my PhD supervisors, David Isenberg and David Latchman, who introduced me to academic research and the field of autoimmune rheumatic diseases in particular. By the time I finished my PhD I was hooked.
Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?
Yes, and that’s why I enjoy being involved with the Arthritis Research UK patient leaflets – this is the most direct way in which what I do impacts on patients.
What would you do if you weren’t a clinician/scientist?
In my dreams, centre-forward for Bristol Rovers! More realistically, I'd have been a teacher.
I have two children called Lana and Asif, and my wife is a GP in Tower Hamlets. When I'm not at work I especially enjoy spending time with my children. I also enjoy playing the piano (badly), watching football and have been known to write and recite comic verse, some of which has been published in rheumatology journals.
This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Winter 2009, issue 143.