Professor Adrian Boswood – Professor of Veterinary Cardiology and Vice Principal for Learning, Teaching and Assessment at the Royal Veterinary College
What or who inspired you to become a vet?
My father was a veterinary surgeon. From a very early age, after it became apparent that I wasn’t going to become an astronaut, I never really seriously considered any other career.
What is your current job? Do you hold clinics as well as carrying out research?
I am currently Vice Principal for Learning, Teaching and Assessment at the Royal Veterinary College. This role leaves me with only a limited amount of time that I can dedicate to research and clinical work. One day a week I run a research clinic examining dogs with mitral valve disease. I have been doing this for nearly 20 years now. This gives me an opportunity to keep my hand in at a bit of clinical work, while also interacting with students interested in research.
What drew you to your field of study and what motivates you to continue?
I sometimes offer career advice to people by saying, “Pursue what you are good at, interested in, and find comes easily”. That may seem curious advice for those who always strive to challenge themselves, but I think if you find something easy it is probably because you have an aptitude for it. Cardiology seemed to me to be a combination of physiology, physics and a bit of maths; an interesting combination that I found easy to understand.
Discuss the impact your research has had on the profession. How have those in general or referral practice benefited from your research?
Probably the greatest impact of research in which I have been involved has been the improved ability to diagnose, stage and manage acquired cardiac disease in dogs. I have been fortunate to participate in several influential clinical trials which have established the effectiveness of pimobendan in the treatment of dogs with heart failure and preclinical heart disease; the QUEST study, the PROTECT study and the EPIC study being the most notable.
It has been very satisfying to see how broadly the findings of those studies have been adopted by specialists and by those in general practice. The EPIC trial, in particular, has given practitioners an effective treatment where previously there was none. I always feel that to have true impact the findings of a study must be applicable in a general practice.
Tell us a little about your own experience. What does your research mean to you personally and what have you gained from it?
When I began my clinical career, I was not particularly motivated to pursue research. However, what I soon realised was that it didn’t take very long to get to the interface between what was understood and what was not yet understood. Clinical research is therefore the way in which we can attempt to answer important clinical questions.
Research can be fun – a bit like puzzle solving. It can also be a creative, rewarding and collaborative process. Some of the most stimulating times in my career have been when I have been discussing and debating how best to analyse and interpret new data with similarly minded collaborators and research students.
What does PetSavers offer the profession in your opinion?
PetSavers is one of a limited number of research funders that specifically encourages clinical research to be conducted in companion animals for the benefit of companion animals. A lot of research funding is prioritised towards research that benefits human health and consequently many successful veterinary researchers are lured away from the research that directly benefits companion animals into either more “basic” research, or research that is of benefit to humans (with benefit to animals being a potential by-product).
PetSavers also encourages research to be conducted by practitioners not necessarily associated with an academic institution. One of the PetSavers-funded projects in which I was recently involved supported a cardiology clinician based in practice to gather prospective data over several years and generate a very valuable dataset from which some clinically useful conclusions could be drawn. My role in the project was helping to interpret, analyse and then disseminate the findings of the study. To me that was a perfect collaboration between a practice-based clinician researcher and an academic with expertise in study design, analysis and academic writing.
Away from the practice and bench, how do you spend your spare time?
In my spare time I enjoy riding my bicycle(s), listening to music, reading and spending time with my family. When possible, I like to get to the west coast of Scotland – when that is not possible I like to imagine I am there by drinking single malt whisky.
What advice would you give to vets considering carrying out clinical research for the first time?
There is a lot of advice I could offer. Probably the most important thing is to try to address a question where the answer is clinically relevant, is of interest to you and likely to be interesting to others. The best clinical research is curiosity driven, is generalisable to a large population of animals and likely to have a meaningful impact in terms of improving outcomes that are important to animals and their owners.
Don’t underestimate or devalue the contribution clinicians can make to research. I think many clinicians come up with fantastic questions but don’t necessarily know how to go about answering them. If you are embarking on a research study for the first time, try to benefit from the wisdom of those experienced in study design and analysis. I have learned from some of the larger clinical studies in which I have been involved that careful study design – including anticipation of the type of analysis that you will wish to undertake – is one of the most important ingredients to success.