Our Michael Mason and Garrod awards are now open for applications. Winners will present a talk at the Annual Conference 2022 in Glasgow, giving them a large platform to promote their research. In this interview we catch up with this year’s winner of the Michael Mason award, Dr Neil Basu, clinical senior lecturer in Rheumatology and Honorary Consultant at the University of Glasgow. The award is presented for excellence in clinical or scientific research in the field of rheumatology. Dr Basu’s work uses sophisticated MRI techniques to find out more about chronic fatigue and pain, and how modulating the brain may help patients experiencing these symptoms.
Tell us more about your background
I’ve always been inspired by my patients. I’m a clinician first and foremost and that’s what pushed me to embark on a career in research. I’m originally from Edinburgh but did much of my specialty training in Aberdeen. During that time, I was inspired to get into research and embarked on a PhD. It was the most fascinating three years of my life and I encourage everyone to explore the world of clinical research. It’s worth taking time out of clinical work to do so.
A subsequent career in clinical academia has certainly broadened my horizons, enabling me to work with people from across the world. I've been especially privileged to have spent a year with the University of Michigan’s renowned Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Centre.
What does your research involve?
My research investigates chronic pain and fatigue. Patients tell us every day of the severe issues they experience, but it’s a complex area and so in the past the biomedical community haven't prioritised research in this area. Despite this, as a naturally stubborn personality, the challenges served to inspire me even more to push forward and take on this area of research.
When I started it was an untrodden path, so I began by looking at the epidemiology of these symptoms. I was examining how many patients have these problems, what impact it has on their quality of life and their ability to work, and their mortality and morbidity.
In the first tranche of these studies, I characterised and highlighted the true burden of these symptoms on a population level. Once I’d done that, I used epidemiology to identify potential associations which allow you to do more focused research of what the biology of these could be. I’ve been using sophisticated MRI technologies to examine the brains of arthritis patients, a quite distinct research approach to our community’s understandable focus on the joint.
What have you discovered?
My imaging work has identified regions of the brain which we think are important to the processing of these symptoms. We’re using that information and reverse translating it to try and understand it on a molecular basis. Hopefully one day we’ll find new drugs, but in the short term we’re looking at how we can manipulate the brain safely and non-invasively with magnetic devices to see if it can help with fatigue and pain.
What does this award mean to you?
It’s one of the most prestigious awards in rheumatology so it’s fantastic news. This award offers validation on a holistic level that what we’re doing is recognised and important. This is what makes an award like this so special and distinct. It’s also helping to raise the profile of this research to the wider community, showing the importance of this area and why we need to do something about it.
What impact will this award have?
The whole point of science is to break the boundaries. This award rubberstamps that we’re on the right track. It also provides a platform to invite people to collaborate with us. This isn’t a research programme that’s Glasgow-specific – we’re here to push forward across the UK and even wider. I’d encourage anyone interested in this area to knock on my door.
What’s next for your research?
The goal has always been to develop new therapeutic options. From epidemiology and biology, we’re now moving more towards the clinical trials space. We’re already trialling non-pharmacological interventions which we’ll be reporting on shortly. Our focus is now on more experimental approaches, such as brain stimulation, something we wouldn’t normally think of applying in rheumatology.
Read our interview's with the winner of the Young Investigator award, Dr Varvara Choida, and the winner of the Garrod award, Dr Matteo Vellio.