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Professor Jacqui Oldham

Jacqui OldhamProfessor Jacqui Oldham is director of the Centre for Rehabilitation Science at the University of Manchester.

What does your work involve?

I'm director of the Centre for Rehabilitation Science at the University of Manchester and also director of Manchester: Integrating Medicine and Innovative Technology (MIMIT). Rehabilitation science is all about evaluating current treatment and developing new approaches to optimise function and independence, particularly in relation to physiotherapy intervention. We also look at new ways to measure strength, endurance and function so we can see if intervention is working or not. MIMIT is more focussed towards developing new devices and technologies to address unmet healthcare needs.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

I've received a number of grants from Arthritis Research UK over the 25 years I've been working in this field. Current funding supports a team of researchers led by Professor David Felson – the ROAM group (Research into OsteoArthritis Manchester) – to look at treatment, mechanisms and outcome for knee osteoarthritis. Particular areas of interest include steroid injections, knee braces and shoe insoles.

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

There are many projects I'm really proud of, mainly because of the hard work and determination of the ROAM group and my wider team of PhD students and post docs. The main one that comes to mind is our research on laser therapy that has shown it can have a profound effect on reducing pain associated with rotator cuff tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. We're now working with the manufacturers of these machines to make recommendations about their wider use in these conditions.

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

In terms of our current funding I’m hoping that the ROAM group can optimise conservative treatment for knee osteoarthritis so we can reduce pain, increase mobility and reduce or prevent long-term damage.

What do you do in a typical day?

My days are really mixed as I tend to travel a lot to London or the States for work. When I’m in Manchester I spend half my time on rehabilitation science activity and half on MIMIT. Today started in the MIMIT office at 8 am with a team meeting to discuss which projects we might support and how we'll take them forward. Follow-on meetings and dealing with urgent emails took me until lunch time. I then walked to my rehabilitation science office – it’s about 10 minutes in glorious sunshine! Once there I joined the ROAM group for a journal club when we review, over a sandwich, recent research that has been published. This was followed by a two-hour ROAM project meeting to discuss progress, talk about results and new funding opportunities and plan for the next phase of development. I then met with one of my PhD students to give feedback on his draft thesis. The early evening gave me time for a chat with colleagues and share some ideas over dinner before a 30-minute walk home.

What's your greatest research achievement?

All achievements are a major team effort and I’m particularly proud of working with the ROAM group and of the 15 students that I've supervised through their PhD. In terms of impact I’m probably most proud of a technology that I've been working on for years to restore muscle function by electrotherapy. I've now teamed up with a company called Femeda who've been making devices for the treatment of incontinence. By combining the two technologies women of all ages are describing dramatic improvements in their problems associated with urine leakage. It's really rewarding when you develop something for one application and it proves to have an dramatic effect on another. This initiative won an award for the best Northwest Healthcare Project of the Year.

Why did you choose to do this work?

I’ve always been interested in how the body works but we have a familial history of rheumatoid arthritis and from young age I knew this was the field I wanted to work in.

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

All the time – you never stop thinking about ways to improve quality of life. It just becomes part of your life and it’s sometimes during the unexpected thoughts or conversations when a new idea comes to you.

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

It'd absolutely have to be something that involved organising people’s houses! I love turning chaos and clutter into order.

About Jacqui

I love to get into the countryside and spend time walking with my partner Alec and our two Daschund dogs, and spending time with our close friends. I also love travelling and if it was not organising houses it'd have to be travel writing!

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Autume 2011, issue 154.

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