‘Completely fresh’ approach to osteoarthritis research announced

24 Apr 2014

Researchers in Manchester are embarking on ‘a completely fresh approach’ to new research that could one day lead to more effective treatment for the common joint disease, osteoarthritis.

More than eight million people in the UK are affected by osteoarthritis, which occurs when cartilage at the ends of bones wears away, leading to stiff, swollen and painful joints. There is little effective treatment other than painkillers and joint replacement.

Now a team led by Professor Ray Boot-Handford at The University of Manchester has been given funding of almost £260,000 from medical research charity Arthritis Research UK over three years to identify groups of patients – based on their genetic make-up –  that may respond well to different, more targeted treatments, rather than the current ‘one-size fits all’ approach.

They aim to ‘stratify’ or segregate patients into different disease groups by identifying the pattern of genes that are active in their joints. Osteoarthritis is a complex condition and the biological cause of cartilage breakdown is thought to vary between individuals.

Osteoarthritis is incredibly complicated, and rather than one condition it is often regarded as an umbrella term for a disease that affects cartilage in many different ways,” explained Professor Boot Handford from the Faculty of Life Sciences. “Not everyone with osteoarthritis has exactly the same pattern of disease, and because not all people’s disease is the same it makes sense that not everyone would respond to the same treatment.

“Most research in recent times has approached osteoarthritis as one disease that will respond to one treatment, and as a result there has been little progress in developing new treatments. We’re proposing a new approach to tackle its complexity by identifying different patient groups that will provide targets for developing new treatments.”

Professor Boot-Handford and his team are now planning to apply a powerful, newly developed gene-sequencing technique called RNAseq to analyse the gene activity and cell functions in the cartilage of people with osteoarthritis, comparing them to normal cartilage.

There are currently no diagnostic tests that have been shown to identify subsets of osteoarthritis that help to guide treatment, but the Manchester team are hopeful that this new technique will enable them to understand, for the first time, the distinctive processes driving cartilage damage in different patients, and which will also guide the development of new, specific treatments in the future.

Arthritis Research UK is the leading authority on arthritis in the UK, conducting scientific and medical research into all types of arthritis and related musculoskeletal conditions. It is the UK’s fourth largest medical research charity and the only charity solely committed to funding high quality research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis.

Notes for editors

For more information or to speak to Professor Boot-Handford please contact Jane Tadman in the Arthritis Research UK press office on 01246 541107 541107 or j.tadman@arthritisresearchuk.org or Kath Paddison at The University of Manchester press office on 0161 275 2111 or kath.paddison@manchester.ac.uk