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Professor David Beard

Professor David BeardDavid Beard is professor of musculoskeletal sciences, Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, and director of OSIRIS (Orthopaedic Surgical & Interventional Trials Unit) at the University of Oxford. He is also an extended scope physiotherapist practitioner, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg
University Health Board, Swansea.

What does your work involve?

Many and varied aspects of non-laboratory arthritis-related research. Previously, I have conducted studies on the evaluation of the safety and efficacy of hip and knee implants, and rehabilitation, including special programmes for patients with cruciate damage and demonstrating the value of early discharge (24 hours) after knee replacement. More recently my work examines the best instruments for measuring outcome of patients at various stages of musculoskeletal disease. In my role as head of the Orthopaedic Surgical and Interventional Trials Unit (OSIRIS) here at Oxford we hope to evaluate many new and existing orthopaedic surgical procedures.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

Intermittently, for many years. My first research grant on cruciate deficiency was
awarded by Arthritis Research UK (A C in those days) over 20 years ago. The work is still cited today. This grant gave me the first opportunity to start out on my somewhat unconventional research career path, which has included nipping to Australia for a spell.

What’s the most important thing you have found out in the past 12 months? And why?

A continued seeping awareness (and disappointment) of the number of surgical interventions, often for arthritis-based diseases, that have sadly bypassed a rigorous evaluation phase and may have little or no good evidence of their benefit.

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

Firstly, to show whether a common shoulder operation (sub-acromial decompression) works or not; secondly, to show the mechanism for any observed benefit and; thirdly, to further our design understanding of surgical trials, including the effects of placebo. The GenuKnet study will tell us whether young patients undergoing knee replacement have poorer outcome than older patients, and why.

What do you do in a typical day?

No day is typical. When heading to Oxford (from home in Wales) a bone stirring 4.30 am start is required where a set of meetings and committees are lined up in the Botnar Centre, often involving doctoral students, existing studies, University meetings, ‘think tanks’ and some national bodies. I stay at Wolfson College and exult in the wonderful academic and rich collegiate environment. Having a clinical qualification as a physiotherapist is very useful and I keep up clinical skills as an advanced practitioner in an NHS diagnostic knee clinic one day a week. The rest of the time (sometimes in my quieter bolthole office in Wales) is spent reviewing PhD chapters/papers and preparing grant submissions.

What is your greatest research achievement?

I am no Nobel prize winner being more of a grafter, but most proud of 1) contributing to changed practice for patients with cruciatedeficient knees 2) planning and the smooth running of a large multi-centre clinical trial examining knee replacement efficacy and 3) knowing that each of my research students exits our unit with greater knowledge and equipped to perform meaningful independent research.

Why did you choose to do this work?

I was always interested in medicine in some form but dropping a grade at A’ level Physics as a distracted youth limited my options somewhat. I chose physiotherapy. The rehabilitation world was very rewarding but some of the practice was frustrating and not evidence based (it has changed greatly over the past 25 years). I moved towards research and became heavily involved with orthopaedic surgery and evaluation of practice. With regard to clinical trials, surprisingly few orthopaedic operations and interventions have been evaluated properly. I wanted to research subjects that 1) had big questions hanging over them and 2) would have wide-ranging implications with results applicable to many people.

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

Genuinely, all the time, but I also always consider the people who put their hands in their pockets to fund research. As a researcher, if you ever forget or lose sight of why you are doing the research you should pack up (and join the lifeboat! see later). The research question should stay foremost and I stress this to all my students. Being more of a realist and team worker (rather than gifted intellectual), I doubt I will ever headline with sensational new treatments but I do hope that my ethos and cumulative effort will truly contribute to helping people with arthritis.

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

Perhaps something a bit more adventurous (full-time lifeboat or other maritime based job – I am sure there is some Viking in me!) or, at the other extreme, something more creative such as writing/journalism?

About David

Aside from duties related to a pair of mischievous female offspring (five and six), being a Manxman I love the sea and kayaking/boating fits well with being a volunteer coastguard rescue officer. Occasional skiing, soccer and squash help keep the joints moving. Any (rare) spare moment I sit in a corner of one my wife’s seaside Abertawe cafés, hopefully with a good novel (but more often with a thesis!), a strong latte and a ‘small’ chocolate brownie.

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Spring 2012, issue 156.

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