Musculoskeletal Research Group

The Musculoskeletal Research Group comprises a large group of clinicians and scientists working together to improve the diagnosis, management and understanding of arthritic diseases.

Theme leader

Professor John Isaacs

Major Research Themes

  1. Musculoskeletal Ageing - we host the MRC/ARUK Centre for Integrated Research into Musculoskeletal Ageing.  In particular our expertise covers cartilage biology and breakdown in osteoarthritis.
  2. Pathogenesis and therapy of Inflammatory Arthritis - this incorporates identification of diagnostic and therapeutic biomarkers, as well as the development of novel immunomodulatory therapies


  • Cartilage biochemistry, including signalling pathways
  • Transcriptional profiling of blood and tissues 
  • Cellular immunology, particularly dendritic cell biology
  • Tissue engineering, including cellular therapies
  • Nanotechnology in relation to bio-surfaces 
  • Clinical genetics and functional genomics, particularly with regard to osteoarthritis 
  • Pharmacogenetics, particularly with regard to biologic therapies for rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Sjogren's syndrome – disease biology and manifestations, eg. fatigue.  Paediatric immunodeficiency 
  • Autoimmune polyendocrinopathy syndrome type I (APECED) biology. Systemic sclerosis clinical trials, including autologous stem cell transplantation 
  • Paediatric rheumatology – clinical features and biology 
  • Epigenetics of joint and cartilage
  • Translational research, including cellular therapy and novel therapy development

Key Collaborations

  • University of Glasgow (McInnes, Ferrell)
  • University of Birmingham (Buckley)
  • MRC/ABPI RA-MAP Consortium (Lead Centre)
  • NIHR Translational Research Partnership for Joint and Related Inflammatory Diseases (Lead Centre)
  • ARUK Clinical Study Group for Inflammatory Arthritis (Lead Centre)
  • University of East Anglia (Ian Clark)
  • University of Liverpool (Jackson) - CIMA
  • University of Sheffield (McCloskey) – CIMA
  • BRAGGSS Consortium (Barton, Manchester; Hyrich, Manchester; Morgan, Leeds; Wilson, Sheffield)
  • ARUK Centre of Excellence in Tissue Engineering (Genever, York; De Bari,  Aberdeen; Richardson/Roberts, Oswestry/Keele)

Developing Researchers

The Musculoskeletal Research Group provides a firm foundation for postgraduate and post-doctoral training.  We currently host 29 PhD students, 6 Clinical Fellows and 19 post-doctoral scientists.  We are part of the Institute of Cellular Medicine which provides formal student and post-doctoral training packages.

Impact and Engagement

  • European League Against Rheumatism Centre of Excellence 2010-2015
  • Arthritis Research UK (ARUK) Experimental Arthritis Treatment Centre
  • MRC/ARUK Centre for Integrated Research into Musculoskeletal Ageing
  • ARUK Centre of Excellence in Tissue Engineering
  • ARUK Centre of Excellence in Rheumatoid Arthritis Pathogenesis
  • Educational materials for musculoskeletal health care professionals which are used by all UK Medical Schools and increasingly overseas (translated into Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese)
  • First into man clinical studies, eg. Autologous tolerogenic dendritic cells for rheumatoid arthritis 
  • arcOGEN – the largest study of osteoarthritis clinical genetics
  • MRC Primary Sjogren's Syndrome cohort
  • International Therapeutic Tolerance Workshop (every 4th year)
  • Nuffield Foundation Oliver Bird Rheumatism Programme
  • Newcastle NIHR Biomedical Research Centre in Ageing and Chronic Disease – Ageing Limbs Theme

Related Websites

Staff List


Dr Mark Birch

Dr Fraser Birrell
Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer

Emeritus Professor Tim Cawston
Strategic Res Advisor (William Leech) and William Leech Professor of Rheumatology

  • Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5363

Professor Helen Foster
Prof of Paediatric Rheumatology

Dr Andrew Gennery
Clinical Reader/Consultant

Dr Catharien Hilkens
Reader in Immunotherapy

Professor John Isaacs
Institute Director

  • Email:
  • Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5851 (Institute Business) +44 (0) 191 208 5337 (Research Matters)

Dr Lesley Kay
Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer

Dr Anja Krippner-Heidenreich
Associate Fellow

Dr Desa Lilic
Consultant Immunologist and Clinical Senior Lecturer

Professor John Loughlin
Prof of Musculoskeletal Research

Professor Fai Ng
Professor of Rheumatology

Dr Philip Platt
Honorary Clinical Lecturer

Dr Arthur Pratt
Intermediate Clinical Fellow, Honorary Consulatant Rheumatologist

Kenneth Rankin
Clinical Fellow/Honorary Consultant

Professor John Robinson

  • Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 6976

Professor Drew Rowan
Professor of Molecular Rheumatology

Dr Ben Thompson
Associate Clinical Lecturer

Professor Jaap Van Laar

Dr David Walker
Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer

Professor David Young
Professor of Musculoskeletal Biology