Q & A with Christine Lin: Musculoskeletal conditions

Senior research fellow Christine Lin is a former physiotherapist who has worked at The George Institute for five years, looking at the costs and benefits of treatments for musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain. Here, she tells us how she hopes her work will support better decision-making around choice of treatments.

What attracted you to working at The George Institute?

The musculoskeletal division at the George has a group of strong senior researchers in my research area from whom I can learn. The George also has other academic divisions staffed by experienced researchers in other health and medical fields so I think it is a vibrant and dynamic workplace. The George also has a culture of doing big, well-conducted studies that aim to make a significant impact on improving our health care. So I think working at the George means that I’m always encouraged to think big, think of impact, and there are plenty of experienced researchers here to support me. Also the George has other departments, such as statistics and marketing, to support my research work.

What are you currently working on?

A main focus of my work is conducting clinical trials. I’ve just finished working on the PACE trial, which investigated the efficacy of paracetamol for people with acute low back pain. Paracetamol is recommended by guidelines as one of the first line medicines to provide pain relief for back pain. However we haven’t had direct evidence on its efficacy. We are currently completing the write up of the PACE study (n = 1650) which should provide answers to guide the care of acute low back pain.

I’m also doing the EXACT trial, which investigates whether a comprehensive exercise programme is more effective than advice in people after ankle fracture. We are currently recruiting people and collecting data from several hospitals in Sydney.

I’m leading the PRECISE study. PRECISE is new from 2013 and has just started to recruit participants from primary care and specialist clinics throughout Sydney. In PRECISE we are looking at whether a drug that specific targets neuropathic pain (pain associated with the nervous system), pregabalin, is effective and cost-effective in reducing leg pain in people with sciatica. Sciatica is a severe form of back pain that is characterised by radiating pain down the leg.

What is a recent highlight?

I was invited to present at a research meeting on spinal pain by the EuroSpine Foundation, in Geneva in September 2013. One great bonus of being a researcher is the opportunity to travel and meet international researchers. I presented on a systematic review that I did looking at the cost-effectiveness of guideline-endorsed treatments in low back pain.

What difference will your work make to healthcare and why?

I hope my work will provide people treatment options for musculoskeletal conditions that are both effective and cost-effective. There are a lot of treatment options out there. Understanding the harms, benefits, costs and burdens of the treatments means that consumers, clinicians and policy makers can make an informed choice when choosing which treatment option they would take.

What is your professional background?

I am a physiotherapist by background. I completed my physiotherapy training in New Zealand and worked fulltime clinically for five years. I’ve been working in research since 2004 and now I work fulltime in research.

To explain to people what I do I say ...I look into whether certain treatments for musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain, are effective and provide value-for-money.

To unwind at the end of the day I ... like going for a walk.

My first job was ...working at Michael Hill Jeweller (my uni summer job) then as a physiotherapist at Auckland Hospital (my first job after graduation).