Living with the pain of arthritis is not inevitable. Complex computer algorithms, stem cell technology and even caterpillars are all being used to find a cure
Currently there is no cure for arthritis. The good news is that the charity Arthritis Research UK is channelling its energies into finding ways to help those living with the condition. Whether it’s the development of subtle exercises to keep joints mobile, or exploring new therapies and self-management strategies, the charity is tirelessly researching new areas.
Arthritis Research UK is investigating how treatments can tackle the progression of arthritis, as well as ease the pain associated with the condition. There are numerous pharmacological treatments now for osteoarthritis and while this means there are plenty of options, the fact is, we are all individuals and experience arthritis in different ways.
Treatments which may work well for some people may not be effective for others. With this in mind, researchers at the Arthritis Research UK Pain Centre are looking into grouping or “stratifying” people according to their symptoms and other factors. For example, understanding the genetic factors involved in arthritis pain may help doctors to identify treatments which work best for each group of patients. In the future, this could mean that at the point of diagnosis, patients can be advised which treatments are most likely to work well for them, helping to get them to access effective treatment sooner.
The charity is also funding several clinical trials to investigate treatments already in use for other conditions, which may also be effective against osteoarthritis. Since these treatments are already approved for use in patients, they could become available relatively quickly if the results are positive. The , led by Phil Conaghan, is testing methotrexate, which is approved for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), for treatment of knee osteoarthritis (OA).
Another area of research is into the cause of arthritis pain. While it’s thought that pain results from damage to the cartilage and inflammation in the joints, this is rarely the whole story. Two people who have very similar levels of damage on an x-ray can experience significantly different levels of pain. So researchers at Arthritis Research UK are investigating the biological basis of pain, hoping to shed new light on pathways which could be targeted to develop new and improved treatments.
The charity is also funding that looks at new molecules which may be effective at targeting pain. For example, a molecule produced by a fungus that infects caterpillars may have potential in preventing the discomfort and inflammation associated with arthritis.
At the Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre, researchers are studying ways to improve cartilage repair by implanting stem cells. The charity believes that stem cells, as the body’s inbuilt repair kit, could act as cartilage rejuvenators. The team is examining lots of areas, including identifying the best type of stem cells to use, and the most effective way to grow stem cells in the joints to create strong, durable and flexible cartilage.
Meanwhile, research at the University of Glasgow led by Professors Andrew Yates and Professor Iain McInnes, are investigating the causes of inflammation inside joints, particularly in rheumatoid arthritis. Although newer biologic treatments such as pioneered by the charity have made a huge difference to patients’ lives over the past 20 years, a significant proportion of patients still do not respond to such treatment.
Professor Yates is using mathematical and computational models to address questions relating to the correct control of the immune system. His main interest is in the behaviour of T cells, white blood cells which play a major part in the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
Professor McInnes is examining the mechanisms of autoimmunity that cause rheumatoid arthritis to start and, as significantly, not stop. The ultimate endpoint is to develop more effective, targeted therapies to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and tests that can be used to predict which patients will respond best to which drug, while minimising side-effects.
For those living with the pain of arthritis a future of endless struggle is not inevitable. With research funded by Arthritis Research UK looking into pain management and joint hypermobility, and drugs to mitigate the pain, we’re one step closer to finding a cure.