Meet the BHF researcher making the news

Dr James Rudd at The Guardian’s London office.

From the 39p patch to treat stroke, to the discovery that fire fighter’s work puts them at higher risk of heart attack, BHF researchers and their work often make the headlines. But it’s not every day that our researchers are writing it.

Dr. James Rudd is researcher at Cambridge University and also a Consultant Cardiologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. James’ BHF funded research is focused on trying to predict heart attacks before they happen — and he does this by studying the formation of plaques — fatty deposits which build up in arteries before a heart attack.

A PET image of the heart, created by PhD student Dr. Jason Tarkin in James’ team. It shows a hotspot of inflammation in one of the heart’s arteries — this is thought to be a sign of an impending heart attack.

James’ team use different types of scanning methods to take pictures of arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood. Positron emission tomography imaging — known as PET — is the mainstay of his research. By injecting research participants with tiny doses of a radioactive dye, the team can build up a 3D picture of any abnormal biological process in the artery wall that might lead to a heart attack in the future. James also repeats PET scans after giving volunteers medications to check whether they are having a beneficial effect on the plaques. What’s more, the PET images can be mined for ‘hidden’ information they contain, something only possible using a ‘big data’ machine learning approach.

James talking about his research at the British Cardiovascular Society annual conference 2017 in Manchester.

A researcher in the news

I met James last week at the offices of The Guardian where he is currently on secondment from Cambridge working as one of 13 British Science Association (BSA) Media Fellows. For the next 3 weeks, James is based on the science desk at The Guardian, near King’s Cross in London, shadowing established science journalists and writing his own stories on science and health.

Now in its 30th year the Media Fellowship scheme aims to help working researchers get a better understanding of how the media works — from the inside. This means researchers can get better coverage of their work and so help the public to really understand their research. James’ enthusiasm for his involvement in the scheme is clear:

“I’ve been absolutely delighted [to be part of this scheme]. I’d certainly recommend it to anybody with an interest in science or medicine. It’s particularly useful if you’re into science communication and getting more public engagement with your research. I’ve learned exactly what makes a compelling science story from The Guardian’s point of view — and it was very different to what I imagined.”

Since starting at The Guardian James has covered topics as diverse as the peer support available to breastfeeding mothers and the potential risks of a class of popular heartburn drugs. The emergence of a gonorrhoea superbug was way out of his comfort zone as a cardiologist, but as a science writer it is standard fare.

James Rudd at The Guardian. The full interview is also available on YouTube.

Covering such a broad range of topics and producing articles in a matter of hours is a major change of pace for James who explains:

“Covering science news is all about deadlines. In my research job, I’m writing research papers over several months. At The Guardian I’m told I need to get 400–500 words down in 3 hours about a subject I’ve got no prior knowledge of, including an interview with the author of the new research paper! It’s been fantastic for sharpening my writing and has helped me to very quickly distil a story down to its core. The public don’t want the fine detail — they want to know why the work is important and interesting and how it will affect them and their life.”

James’ fellowship has been funded by the School of Clinical Medicine at University of Cambridge.

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