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£10M to tackle arthritis

23 April 2009


A major new research centre is bringing together world-leading experts to tackle arthritis and develop new treatments for the millions of people suffering from the condition.

The Arthritis Research Campaign has awarded the University £2.5M over five years to establish a Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre, a national centre of excellence. Further funding from the University of £7.5M will drive forward the centre’s research over the next decade.

The centre will bring together internationally recognised experts in a number of different research fields, in an ambitious bid to apply engineering solutions and basic science to problems caused by arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a major cause of disability, leading to stiff, painful and inflamed joints, and affecting around eight million people in the UK. There are currently no drugs available that slow down its progression, and the only treatment is symptom relief, and ultimately joint replacement.

The director of the new centre, Professor Vic Duance, described the approach to be taken by his team as "molecule to man," in which close collaboration between engineers, biomedical scientists and medics such as orthopaedic surgeons, rheumatologists and physiotherapists will lead to a rapid translation of research to patient benefit in the clinic.

"We are not claiming to be able to cure arthritis, but we certainly hope to be able to develop much better treatment," said Professor Duance. "At the moment the only effective treatment for severe osteoarthritis is joint replacement, but we are now looking to find other ways of treating patients earlier to slow the down disease progression, so delaying the need for joint replacement."

Building on studies between orthopaedics and engineering in Cardiff, the team will use their cutting edge expertise in engineering, bioscience, genetics and imaging to compare joint movement in healthy people and patients with arthritis, and assess how it changes with age, injury, exercise and disease. Pain is the major factor in arthritis and an exciting new aspect of the research is to relate molecular changes in the joint to pain and inflammation, to show how overworked joints are linked to pain and disease development. This new information will help them to devise and develop improved treatments such as better drugs and physical therapies.

Professor Vic Duance examining computer images from a confocal microscopeProfessor Vic Duance examining computer images from a confocal microscope

Although the aim is to offer new treatments that delay the requirement for joint replacement surgery, in the short term the team also hope to improve the lifespan and quality of existing joint replacements by developing new coatings and materials.

Medical director of the Arthritis Research Campaign Professor Alan Silman said: "Artificial hip and knee joint replacement has transformed the lives of millions of sufferers over the past four decades. The challenge now is to build on that success and identify novel alternatives to surgery as well as improving the short and long-term outcome of those who need an operation.

"Cardiff has all the individual building blocks to achieve these goals and in a unique national endeavour our investment will bring these groups together, encouraging scientists to focus their attention on these major issues for the benefit of people with arthritis."

First Minister Rhodri Morgan said: "Welsh academic research centres are playing an important role in driving forward technological advances in the healthcare and bioscience fields, as demonstrated by this decision by the Arthritis Research Campaign to locate a new research centre at Cardiff University, which we all hope will bring new developments to ease the suffering of those with arthritis. As First Minister and as Science Minister for Wales, this development presses all the right buttons!"

Cardiff University’s Vice-Chancellor Dr David Grant said: "That the Arthritis Research Campaign selected Cardiff to establish a national centre of excellence is testament to the world-leading academic expertise and state-of-the-art facilities at each of the academic Schools and Imaging Centres involved in the bid.

"It is one of the largest, broadest interdisciplinary projects in this University to date, and will greatly advance our understanding and treatment of this common condition, putting Cardiff, Wales and the UK at the forefront of research into arthritis."

The Arthritis Research Campaign Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre will involve six of the University’s Schools: Biosciences, Engineering, Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Healthcare Studies plus the University’s three Imaging Centres. Cardiff and Vale Health NHS Trust and academics from the University of Exeter and Queen’s University, Belfast, are also involved.

The grant will enable ten new research posts to be set up, plus the infrastructure to coordinate the research programme, and will establish a new state of the art biomechanical testing and imaging facilities. Twelve new PhD students will also contribute to the centre’s research.

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