Inspiring peopleVictoria Chapman

Discovering ways to ease the burden of chronic pain
Lead for Health and Wellbeing
Victoria Chapman
You lead the Health and Wellbeing Global Research Theme (GRT). What does this entail?

The aim of our theme is to increase the breadth and quality of research interactions between schools, faculties and campuses, preventing research silos, and increasing the impact of our research outputs. The Health and Wellbeing GRT encompasses many of the great research challenges facing the world today, ranging from chronic inflammatory diseases, the impact of ageing upon the brain and the musculoskeletal system and tackling antimicrobial resistance.

This theme includes vital opportunities arising from fundamental advances in stem cell research which are leading to novel regenerative medicine therapies and the development and application of healthcare technologies. My role is to oversee and coordinate the University’s research efforts in these priority areas, encouraging and enabling efforts to make step-changes in the research delivered here at Nottingham.

Chronic pain is debilitating and impacts upon everyday life
How does your work fit within the Health and Wellbeing GRT?

My own research fits well with a number of the Research Priority Areas: Musculoskeletal Health in Ageing and Wellbeing, Translational Biomedical Imaging and Brain Health across the Lifespan. In the future I would like to start a dialogue with Healthcare Technologies over research collaborations.

How would you explain your research?

The experience of pain is fundamental to survival: it serves to protect us from external damage, can alert us to underlying disease and forces us to take it easy and let injuries heal. Most people have experienced short-lasting pain which is easily treated with drugs such as ibuprofen. However, many individuals of all ages experience long-lasting pain which is either difficult to treat with existing drugs, or requires sustained drug treatment which can lead to unwanted side-effects.

Our research is focused on understanding the mechanisms that mediate pain responses, both at the level of the sensory nerves and within the central nervous system. Using this information, alongside evidence from pharmacological studies using cellular and molecular biology, we can identify cellular targets (for example receptor proteins or enzymes) for new drugs which should reduce pain. This type of mechanistic research shows that not all chronic pain is the same, for example drug targets for chronic pain arising from nerve damage (neuropathic pain) are different to those for inflammatory arthritis pain.

What inspired you to pursue this area of research?

My interest in understanding how drugs work, and the systems they interact with, resulted in me studying Pharmacology at University College London, where I was introduced to neuropharmacology and specifically spinal mechanisms of pain processing by Dr Tony Dickenson. He inspired many undergraduates to enter pain research, and four of 15 students in my year have had careers working on chronic pain in either academia or industry. I was fortunate to study for my PhD with Tony, which was when I had my first interactions with the pharmaceutical industry (Sandoz, GSK, Merck) and started to attend international conferences.

Following my PhD I spent two years in Paris working with Professor Jean-Marie Besson, an international leader in pain research. Jean-Marie was an unconventional role model, the hours were long, expectations were high, questions were difficult and I was often left wondering if I had missed the point! Jean-Marie inspired generations of pain researchers, including me. He understood and promoted the importance of research being translationally relevant long before it became a widely recognised need for clinical research.

Nottingham has excellent research facilities and a strong collaborative ethos
How will your research affect the average person?

The amount of knowledge required for a change in medical practice such as drug treatments is vast, and is achieved by the culmination of many different types of research by many research teams across the world. Being part of the Arthritis Research UK Pain Centre (ARUK) at Nottingham means that my fundamental mechanistic research is aligned to clinical studies carried out at Nottingham and across the UK. The centre aims to advance understanding of arthritis pain mechanisms and to develop new treatments, pharmacological and non-pharmacological.

Understanding why people experience chronic pain allows better informed treatment plans, which will benefit individuals in the future.

What’s been the greatest moment of your career so far?

I have been very fortunate to work with many great people, some well-established scientists and others just starting their careers. Enjoying the small victories is important for my long-term success and mental strength; getting those controversial ideas published, giving a good talk, submitting a grant you are proud of, successful PhD defences.

Seeing undergraduate students make the transition into postgraduate success, especially in my area of research, makes me very happy! Being part of the team awarded the centre of excellence for pain research by ARUK has made a big impact on my research and standing within the research community.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Discuss your ideas with colleagues and your mentor, get involved in the Research Priority Areas and meet new people from across the University to collaborate with. Try to balance research innovation with tried–and-tested methods, be open to other peoples’ opinions but don’t be distracted and dragged off-course. I am a firm believer in the value of research planning to sustained long-term research success.

What’s the biggest challenge for researchers in your field?

Chronic pain is debilitating and impacts upon everyday life, disrupting work, sleep and relationships. It is often associated with depression and anxiety, and recent evidence suggests it alters cognitive function. The research community’s common goal is the development of new, more effective analgesic drugs which have reduced side-effects, which will improve the quality of life of millions of people worldwide.

How does being based at the University allow you to fulfil your research aspirations?

Nottingham has excellent research facilities and a strong collaborative ethos. The willingness of colleagues from different schools and faculties to collaborate and develop new strands of research has allowed me to broaden my research base, allowing us the freedom to look at scientific questions from different perspectives. I am very grateful to many colleagues from across the University who helped me start my career in Nottingham and continue to contribute to the goals of our pain research.

Global Research Theme
Health and Wellbeing

Read Victoria's full profile

Victoria Chapman is Professor of Neuropharmacology at The University of Nottingham and leads a research group focused on mechanisms of chronic pain. She is deputy director of the Arthritis Research UK Centre of Excellence in Arthritis Pain, where she is responsible for preclinical studies, and is the lead of the University’s Health and Wellbeing Global Research Theme.


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