A Life in the Day

Last year they gave it to a Canadian but I don’t even have this excuse!

By Antoinette Scott.

Professor David Isenberg, Arthritis Research UK’S Diamond Jubilee Professor of Rheumatology at University College London.

I am up as soon as my alarm goes off at 6.20am. I have a very quick breakfast – toast and tea and then it’s in the car and straight to work. I live in North London with my wife and have two kids: grown, flown. One, a clothes designer and the other, a solicitor.

It takes about 25 minutes to drive from Finchley to work. I arrive at 7.30 am. And usually go to my room to sort out the emails that come through the night, leaving messages for my various secretaries. My remit consists of a mixture of clinical and research work. I see about forty patients on average two or three days a week and get asked to ‘pop-in’ to see several more with my junior staff during clinics. Working with people is what my job is about and I love it!

I was born in Tottenham. My dad was a GP on Tottenham High Road. I used to walk past the Spurs ground on my way to school, which explains the football team I support. As a consequence of being a spurs fan I have known suffering. For many years I have known pain, pain and the occasional glory. Pet hate? Arsenal, only joking of course!

I play the rhythm guitar in a little band called Lupus Dave and the Davettes. What I like to do is to rewrite words to popular songs of the era I grew up in, 1963 -1975.  I know little of music either side of that golden era! Key current members of the Davettes are Peter Lydyard (Emeritus professor of Immunology at UCL); Jude Bubbear and Jessica Manson (consultant rheumatologists) – several others have participated over the years. I am currently working on our third CD. Our CDs are distributed to friends/ colleagues (i.e. strictly between consenting adults in private!) My wife and I love theatre and cinema (she is not a big music fan being tone deaf) and like to go each two to three times a month.

Lunch is usually a sandwich in the middle of the day whilst I’m doing something. There is no lunch break.

It was by accident that I got into rheumatology. I was initially interested in psychiatry but after a while decided I no longer wanted to do that but was stuck in what to do. Then I met a wonderful guy called Michael Snaith who was my predecessor at UCH. He persuaded me that rheumatology would be an interesting thing to do and gave me research opportunity which I took about thirty years ago. I did my basic research in the UK in the 80s, and then had a fantastic year in Boston working for one of the leaders in haematology and oncology, Robert Schwartz. I was very fortunate to work for him. I came back and set up a laboratory here in UCH. Even though I was still a junior doctor, they let me do that. Then in 1991 I became professor in rheumatology. We have one of the biggest departments in rheumatology in the UK.

Last year I was awarded the Evelyn Hess Award for outstanding contribution to research and treatment in patients with lupus; the first time they have given it to a non North-American – last year they gave it to a Canadian, but I don’t even have this excuse! It was certainly one of my career highs. The other being the first time we used B cell depletion with rituximab (a biological drug) in lupus and it worked.

I am motivated by my curiosity and the complexity of the patients that I see. There is always a challenge to try to find better ways to treat patients and combine a deeper understanding of their disease to design better treatment. It’s an increasing struggle nowadays to get drugs I’d like to use in clinical trials. One of the drugs I use, rituximab, was initially turned down by NICE and had to go through an appeal. It was quite stressful. In a sense, it is a constant battle. There is a lot to be said for persevering though.

It has been a pleasure in the last year few years to see my unit become quite a magnet for trainees from overseas. It really is rather like the United Nations at times! As an example I received a request from a doctor in Ghana recently wanting to come and work with us. After going through all the official hurdles she became pregnant so we had to wait before we could bring her here and when she got here she told us there were no rheumatologists in Ghana. On her return in a year’s time she will become Ghana’s first rheumatologist!

I try to leave the rest of the afternoon for teaching, administration and organising research in the field of rheumatology.

I would describe myself as physician, scientist, family man, musician and optimist, in no particular order of course.

I leave work at 7.20 pm, eat at home with my wife who is great cook otherwise I would be in trouble as cooking is not my thing. I do not socialise week days, leaving outings for the weekends. To unwind I tend to play the guitar to myself. I enjoy reading for 10-15 minutes before I sleep.  The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal is what I’m reading now.

Bedtime is between 11 and 12 am. After switching off the lights I’m fast asleep.

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