Professor Chris Denton
Professor Chris Denton is an Arthritis Research UK senior lecturer and consultant rheumatologist at the Centre for Rheumatology at the Royal Free and University College Medical School, Hampstead, London.
What does your work involve?
As an academic rheumatologist my work is never dull. Although research is my first priority I also spend significant amounts of my time seeing patients with connective tissue disease and also have responsibilities in teaching and management.
How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?
I've been very fortunate in obtaining long-term support for my work from Arthritis Research UK. I obtained my first grant, a clinical research fellowship, in 1994 and have been supported in various ways since that time. Clinical research fellowships are invaluable in fostering and developing the careers of health professionals and basic scientists. The application process is an excellent chance to develop and refine a project and training environment, and having independent finance allows Arthritis Research UK fellows to go to work in the very best laboratories. All fellows meet once a year to discuss their work and this gives great encouragement and generates valuable collaborations. I've held an Arthritis Research UK senior research fellowship for the past 6 years.
What's the most important thing you've found out in the past 12 months? Why?
This is an exciting time for research in rheumatology and connective tissue diseases, including the condition scleroderma (systemic sclerosis), which is the main focus of my research and clinical work. Scleroderma causes fibrosis (or scarring) in the skin, joints and blood vessels and can affect the lungs, heart and kidneys in severe cases. During the past 12 months we've confirmed that blocking a key protein called TGFß can reverse some of the abnormal properties in cells from scleroderma patients. This is important as it demonstrated that fibrosis, once believed to be irreversible, may eventually be targeted by new treatments. Recent trials have also shown that blocking antibodies against TGFß can be safely given to patients with scleroderma.
What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?
There are many goals for a senior fellow, including achievement of project milestones gaining external funding to support a research programme. A major personal gain has been the securing of a long-term position at UCL based upon my work as a senior fellow.
What do you do in a typical day?
One of the great attractions of a medical career that combines clinical rheumatology with research is variety - no day is all that typical. However, I prefer to start early on most days – usually on the computer responding to emails that have arrived overnight from colleagues. Next, as the hospital gets going, I'll deal with any urgent clinical problems. After this I can concentrate on laboratory issues, research, writing, reviewing. At the end of the day I'm likely to be pestering colleagues in the laboratory to see how the day's experiments have gone – new data from the lab are what gives you a real buzz in research.
What's your greatest research achievement?
The achievement of which I'm most proud is that I've successfully used some of the exciting progress in developmental biology and mouse genetics to better understand development of scarring or fibrosis in human rheumatic disease.
Why did you choose to do this work?
I'm a great believer that work chooses you rather than the other way round. When it goes well, there can be few more rewarding ways to work than in medical research and clinical rheumatology.
Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?
Research into fibrosis is already helping scleroderma patients but there's a long way to go. Ultimately it's hoped that very specific, targeted therapy will be possible – like in rheumatoid arthritis. Our research programme is focused on identifying and testing target proteins.
What would you do if you weren't a researcher?
Another branch of experimental science or medicine would probably suit my aptitudes – sadly a highly-paid career as a sportsman or in entertainment would not!
One of the added bonuses of my work is the opportunity to travel and meet fascinating people through lecturing and presenting at conferences. This allows me to indulge my passion for travel and international food. Otherwise, home life is just as busy as work at the moment, with our children (two girls and two boys), aged from 6 months to 11 years, providing all the extracurricular activity I could wish for – and then some. Nevertheless, my home life ensures that skills in diplomacy and crisis-management remain well-honed before I even get to the office!
This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Summer 2006, issue 133.