Western Mail Profiles: Dr Anwen Williams

‘Arthritis – what a pain!’

Anwen Williams is a senior academic and Deputy Director of Postgraduate Research at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine.

Approximately 600 children and a staggering 25% of adults in Wales have arthritis. That’s far more than other diseases; diabetes (5%), heart conditions such as heart attack, angina, heart failure (8%) and all malignancies (1.1%), in Wales. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability.

There is no cure for arthritis, for this reason my work focuses upon finding out why patients develop arthritis and what controls the rate of arthritis progression. In addressing these two questions I, as a member of an international research community, am better placed to find ways to reduce the impact of arthritis upon the health and wellbeing of patients, their families and carers.

The size of the task and the monumental challenges ahead cannot be under-estimated, after all arthritis has been around since the days that dinosaurs roamed the earth. So why haven’t we found a cure for arthritis? In reality, we just did not have the research tools we needed to do the job until recently. The latest technological advancements and the identification of the human genome will enable rapid progress in the discovery and development of small molecule, protein and antibody drugs for arthritis. In addition, there are several hundred diverse types of arthritis; they have different triggers, characteristics and affect people of all ages so we are unlikely to find one magic bullet to cure all forms of arthritis.

For me as a lead investigator in the Arthritis Research Group, based in Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, the best approach is to consider drug discovery on a disease-by-disease basis and to work in partnership with scientists of international renown, clinicians, research funders like Arthritis Research UK, patients and pharmaceutical industry.

Our research aims to improve our understanding of the mechanisms that contribute to disorders of the joint, with the view of improving the lives of people with arthritis. Indeed, as a young scientist in her first postdoctoral appointment, I discovered a method for improving the safety and efficacy of an anti-arthritis drug. My training as a Pharmacist and specific interest in pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmaceutics and pharmacology certainly contributed to this advancement. Since then my research has underpinned the bulk of arthritis research in Cardiff.

I’m pleased to say that I am still learning and use my experience and expertise to raise awareness of the disease while at the same time nurturing the next generation of academics. As a pro-active member of Cardiff University’s eclectic Public Understanding of Science in Health group, I help ‘make science simple’ by co-hosting annual symposiums and work experience placements for hundreds of school children from across Wales at the School of Medicine.

Anwen may be contacted at: wmdasw@cardiff.ac.uk

This article first  appeared in the Western Mail on 23rd December 2013, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.