NHIP Academy: Meet our Community
Wednesday April 5, 2023
Dr Ken Baker
Dr Ken Baker is a Senior Clinical Fellow at Newcastle University and an Honorary Consultant Rheumatologist at the Newcastle Freeman Hospital. He was awarded a PhD from Newcastle University in 2018 for his work on identifying predictors of drug-free remission for patients with rheumatoid arthritis at the Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). He is now leading a three-year international rheumatology research project, The SustaINed drug-Free remissiON in rheumatoId Arthritis (SINFONIA), funded by Foreum Foundation for Research in Rheumatology.
Dr Baker’s current research project, SINFONIA, aims to develop a blood test to predict which people with rheumatoid arthritis can stop their arthritis drugs without their symptoms recurring (“drug-free remission”). It also aims to understand what happens to the immune system in people with rheumatoid arthritis in drug-free remission, and how this affects patients’ quality of life.
Dr Baker is also the Clinical Lead for the RheumatOid Arthritis DMard tAPering (ROADMAP) Service. This is a clinic at the Newcastle Freeman Hospital that supports patients with stable rheumatoid arthritis who wish to try to reduce their arthritis drugs. This process is tailored to each patient, gradually reducing their medication whilst closely monitoring for the possibility of arthritis flare. By doing this, the service not only benefits patients through reduced drug side-effects and blood tests, but can also save NHS resources from being spent on prescribing and monitoring unnecessary drug treatment.
Supported by funding from the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre and a major pharmaceutical company, Dr Baker is also leading on projects to test the use of digital technology between hospital appointments. This “remote monitoring” is set to help identify patients with active arthritis who may need an earlier appointment, whilst also saving valuable clinic resources and patient time by reducing hospital visits for those who are doing well.
Dr Baker also helps to support local Public and patient Involvement and engagement in Musculoskeletal reSearch (PIMS) group. This is a forum that welcomes researchers to present to patients and the public to help shape the direction of high-quality research and be involved in exciting discoveries. He also helps to support patient and public involvement and engagement in wider research strategies across the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre.
Discussing the impacts of his research, Dr Baker explains:
“The potential impact of my research is threefold: it provides patients with an opportunity to reduce their medication if they want to, it allows better timing of hospital visits to match patients’ arthritis activity, and it helps to free-up NHS resources for those in greatest need. Patients play a crucial role in all of this, from developing the research ideas through to designing and delivering the research studies, and engaging with the exciting results.”
As an NHIP Senior Clinical Fellow and Honorary Consultant, Dr Baker is able to divide his time equally between his clinical and research roles. Speaking about this, he said:
“My clinical work inspires my research as I can directly see where there is room for improvement. Take rheumatoid arthritis for example – around half of patients can now achieve remission with modern arthritis drugs, yet these can cause side effects and need regular blood test monitoring. I am often asked by my patients whether reducing medication is a possibility, though we know very little about the best way to do this. Being able to take important unanswered questions like this from the clinic, and solve them using scientific research, is a unique aspect of a clinical academic job and is hugely rewarding.”
Importance of research
Newcastle is a centre of research excellence and delivers world-class, multidisciplinary research. Dr Baker expresses his view on the importance of research:
“Research is crucial because there are always ways to improve clinical services. Taking part in research is not only academically and intellectually interesting, but it provides the freedom to work on projects you feel passionate about, which you don’t always get the opportunity to do in solely clinical work. The retention of top-quality staff is a huge benefit of research as it keeps those individuals in the North East which ultimately filters through into improving the overall services we provide in the region.
“Another great thing about research is it improves patient outcomes. By patients being involved in research, it allows them to feel they are giving back and playing a part in improving the services available.”
Being a current fellow of NHIP Academy, Dr Baker discusses how useful the service is:
“Academic careers can take many different routes, but NHIP Academy helps to navigate you through your options. Making that leap over to research can be daunting, but by providing a formalised process to get you on your pathway, the Academy is a gateway for health and care professionals looking to make the move into research.”
Dr Ken Bakers’ Advice
“My advice for anyone starting their fellowship journey would be to seize the opportunities that come your way. Knowing the destination of your research is important, but the route to get there can change along the way! Be prepared to be flexible and make the most of every opportunity that presents itself.”
To find out more about NHIP Academy, visit https://www.newcastlehealthinnovation.org/