Supporting future leaders in musculoskeletal research

06 May 2020
John Issacs with supporters at the Great North Run.

We're committed to building a world-class research workforce to continue the fight against arthritis. To do this, we aim to encourage the brightest researchers to become involved in research into musculoskeletal conditions.

Each year we fund a number of PhD scholarships which are scored and ranked on factors including the potential impact of the research and potential benefit for patients with musculoskeletal conditions.

The John Isaacs PhD scholarship

This year, we’re pleased to announce the John Isaacs PhD Scholarship award for the highest scoring PhD application.

John Isaacs is a Professor of Rheumatology & Director of Therapeutics North East at Newcastle University and Consultant Rheumatologist & Director of Research at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Alongside colleagues in Glasgow, Birmingham and Oxford, he also leads our inflammatory arthritis centre.

John is a dedicated supporter and fundraiser for us. He’s run the Great North Run many times for Versus Arthritis and has raised over £50,000 to support our work. This PhD has been awarded to honour his incredible achievements.

John says:

“In 2005 I decided to attempt the Great North Run and raise some funds for Versus Arthritis. It was supposed to be a one off, but it was a fabulous day and I raised a reasonable amount from generous friends and colleagues. 

The charity and my donors encouraged me to run it a second time in 2006, and then a third in 2007.  Each year I said it was going to be my last – but each time my donors became more generous. 

Finally, in 2019, I ran my 15th and final Great North Run. It’s been so satisfying to fund raise over the years, for the charity that has generously supported the work of our laboratory.  Whilst I have run enough, I am still seeking my next challenge.”

Our Head of Research Delivery, Dr Caroline Aylott says:

“We’re thrilled to be able to announce the John Isaacs PhD studentship in recognition of the fantastic work he has done to support the charity and people with arthritis over the years.

“PhD Studentships are the first step on the journey to becoming the future leaders of musculoskeletal research. It's fitting that this research is in an area close to John’s heart and will help to advance our understanding of rheumatoid arthritis and improve treatments for people with the condition.”

Why are PhD scholarships important?

Our research success depends on the quality of the researchers and clinicians involved, who translate great scientific ideas into benefits for people with arthritis.

Our prestigious PhD scholarships aim to encourage scientists and non-medical healthcare professionals to embark on a research career in any discipline relevant to arthritis and related musculoskeletal diseases.

Improving treatment options

All the PhD projects funded this year work towards improving treatment options or uptake, across four different conditions: rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, osteoporosis and systemic sclerosis.

We’re pleased to announce and congratulate Professor Kim Midwood on being our first recipient of the John Isaacs PhD scholarship.

Here’s a summary of her innovative rheumatoid arthritis research.

Developing new antibody-based treatments for rheumatoid arthritis

Professor Kim Midwood – University of Oxford

Professor Kim Midwood developed a new class of therapeutic antibodies therapy during her Versus Arthritis senior research fellowship.

In this John Isaacs scholarship award, a PhD student will be recruited to explore the biological mechanisms of how these antibodies can prevent chronic inflammation and tissue damage.

The researcher hopes to understand how people with rheumatoid arthritis might benefit from the treatment, identify what stage of treatment this therapy is likely to be most effective, and develop ways to measure if the treatment is working.

Why is this research important?  

This could help move these antibody therapies towards clinical trials in the future. If trials are successful, this could provide new treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis patients who do not currently respond well to other treatments.

Read more about the research.

You can also read more about this year’s other new PhD scholarships studying lupus, osteoporosis and the Masonic Charitable Foundation funded work on systemic sclerosis.

Find more about our research

We’ll keep you posted on progress and updates, find out more about our research.