Researcher shares the importance of working with patient research partners to get to the heart of the research question

Amy Naylor
Dr Amy Naylor, a Senior Research Fellow.

Dr Amy Naylor is a Senior Research Fellow and member of the Rheumatology Research Group within the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing. Her research group studies the bone remodelling process to identify aspects that can be targeted therapeutically to reverse the bone loss seen as a result of inflammation and ageing and have found patient research partners (PRPs) invaluable.

What is the main focus of your research?

The integrity of bones is crucial for healthy ageing and the maintenance of independence for patients with all types of arthritis. Bone tissue is removed and replaced in a process called “remodelling”, which occurs continually throughout life. 10% of your bone is new every year! This constant remodelling process keeps bones strong and healthy, but is disrupted in diseases such as osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. I am interested in understanding exactly how the bone remodelling process is controlled at a cellular level in order to identify drug targets to boost bone strength, function and healing.

When was the first time you worked with a PRP?

My first experience of working with patient research partners was when I asked members of the Rheumatology Research Patient Partnership (R2P2) for a detailed critique of my Fellowship research proposal. I was fortunate that a number of R2P2 members took the time to read and comment on the proposal and I have no doubt that it was greatly improved following their advice. Versus Arthritis funded the proposal and this supports a large part of the work that my research group conducts.

I now have two PhD students who are funded by the MRC-Versus Arthritis Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research (CMAR). Both students have been paired with patients as part of the Student Patient Alliance.

What kind of activities have you involved PRPs in?

  • Reading of written grant proposals, in particular the lay language sections
  • Designing lay posters and writing abstracts
  • Educating and discussing arthritic conditions with PhD students to give them a better understanding of the relevance and context of their research

What are the benefits of involving PRPs in research?

PRPs force scientists to really think about the relevance of their research and to find a way to explain it without jargon. I think this really encourages critical thinking and gets to the heart of the research question. It also ensures that the biological problems we study reflect the real-world problems that patients face.

What would you say to someone who was considering becoming a PRP?

Thank you! Researchers really benefit from the insights that you bring to our work. We try to do research that is beneficial and important but it can be hard to know if we’re on the right track or even know what the right track is – particularly for those of us who are not clinicians or who don’t meet patients as part of their job.

What would you say to a researcher who was considering working with a PRP for the first time?

You might be surprised by how much this partnership will challenge your thinking, and that’s a good thing!

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