The Arthritis NewsletterWinter 2017
When Teamwork Creates Research: Dr. Jacek Kopec opens up on his research and the collaborations that bring it to life.
We sat down with Dr. Jacek Kopec, Senior Research Scientist of Epidemiology at Arthritis Research Canada and Head of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, where he opened up about his research and the students and colleagues that help make it happen.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background.
I wasn’t always headed towards a career in research. I became interested in research when I finished medical school but I also worked briefly as a family physician in Poland and a hospital doctor in South Africa. After realizing this wasn’t my path, I went to Toronto to complete a Master’s in Epidemiology.
It was during my PhD at McGill that I met my supervisor and mentor, Dr. John Esdaile, and under his supervision, I developed the Quebec Back Pain Disability Scale. For the next several years, I worked in cancer research in Pittsburgh and Toronto, and eventually made my way to Vancouver, where I joined Arthritis Research Canada and UBC in 2000.
Q: What kind of research are you involved in?
I’m currently involved in multiple research projects, so the projects differ. I’m interested in quality of life measurement, epidemiology of osteoarthritis (OA), and simulation modeling—one of my current projects involves comparing the prevention of OA versus the treatment of OA using computer simulation. Through computer simulation, we can look at the effects of intervention, risk factors, treatments and outcomes in population. We’re asking “what if” questions on possible changes and resulting effects using microsimulation modeling. I’m also part of a large study aiming to develop an instrument to measure health literacy in people with respiratory conditions. And, I’m working with a student interested in measuring the quality of life of children with limb deformities, among others.
Q: Is there anything you still want to research that you haven’t had a chance to?
Absolutely! Some areas I am currently interested in are risk prediction models for multiple conditions and risk factors, and studying the burden of symptoms in Canada.
Q: In addition to being a research scientist at Arthritis Research Canada, you also teach at UBC. How do you balance all of this work?
Well, this is where the importance of collaboration comes in! There’s always a team involved. All of my publications, research, findings, etc.—everything has been a team effort. With a good team, work can be fun, innovative, and efficient.
I do want to mention a couple of people who have made an impact on myself and my work. Of course, Dr. John Esdaile. I’ve known John for 30 years and he’s not only been a supportive and encouraging supervisor, but also a great mentor. And Dr. Eric Sayre, Arthritis Research Canada’s statistician, has been on numerous projects with me. He’s always providing me with thought-provoking ideas and pushes me to explore things further.
Q: So you credit collaboration as a factor in the success of your research. Is there anything else that drives you?
Well, it’s the innovation aspect of research. For me, innovation is a strong motivating factor. I find it most interesting when I can do something that hasn’t been done before. New ideas often come from students I supervise. In fact, some of the most exciting and original research I’ve been involved in was done by graduate students. I could talk for hours about the projects done by my students!
Q: Any chance you’ll slow down soon?
Not now. There’s more research that needs to be done to help people with arthritis, and I want to be a part of finding the answers.
Q: If people want to learn more about your research, how can they do so?
All of my publications are listed on the Arthritis Research Canada’s website here: https://www.arthritisresearch.ca/jacek-kopec
You can also check my newest video on microsimulation modeling and OA on Arthritis Research Canada’s YouTube page: https://youtu.be/-bezIPxIqPM