thumbnail Arthritis researchers recognised for their achievements

Scientists and clinicians involved in arthritis research at Newcastle University are celebrating the award of two prestigious accolades which confirm their status as leaders in the field. 

Newcastle University's Musculoskeletal Research Group in the Faculty of Medical Sciences has been awarded “Centre of Excellence” status by the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR). The team has also been recognised by medical research charity Arthritis Research UK for its “outstanding contribution” to the charity as it celebrates its 75th anniversary.

EULAR, a European-wide scientific body whose chief aim is to stimulate research into arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, made the award to Newcastle on the basis of its impressive publications record in top academic journals. It is one of only six centres in the UK to have such status.

Arthritis Research UK, which currently funds more than £6.5m into research in Newcastle, said its honouring of the group was an acknowledgement of the of its all-round outstanding contribution to the charity over a number of years which has seen them emerge as national leaders in a number of areas, for example:

• Development of novel, experimental therapies for rheumatoid arthritis (Professor John Isaacs)
• Basic and translational research in osteoarthritis (Dean of Research, Professor Tim Cawston and Professor Drew Rowan)
• Leading  a major genome screening project arcOGEN, aiming to find the genes that cause osteoarthritis (Professor John Loughlin)
• Keys aspects of research into arthritis affecting children and teenagers (Professor Helen Foster)
• Educational research (Dr David Walker and Dr Lesley Kay)
• Pioneering haematologic stem cell transplantation for scleroderma and other conditions (Professor Jaap van Laar)

“These achievements provide a wonderful endorsement of the hard work performed by numerous individuals over the past 15 years, as well as to the integration of the teams in the laboratory and in the clinic,” said John Isaacs, Professor of Clinical Rheumatology.

“It is a tough challenge to achieve international recognition in medical science but we deserve to be where we are. It is also fun to work at the ‘cutting edge’ and we aim to maintain our status by continuing to make important discoveries that impact on the management of musculoskeletal disease.”
Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK said: “We congratulate Newcastle University on achieving the EULAR Centre of Excellence award. We’re delighted to take this opportunity to acknowledge Newcastle’s all-round contribution towards Arthritis Research UK’s 2020 goals. In addition to leading pioneering research projects into the causes and treatment of arthritis, Professor Isaacs chairs our clinical studies group for adult inflammatory arthritis, the team has also led our educational research and also fundraises for the charity.”

These are the latest in a long line of accolades won in recent years by Newcastle researchers working in the field of arthritis research alongside clinicians at the Freeman Hospital. In 2008 The Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University were awarded National Institutes for Health Biomedical Research Centre status to become a Specialist Biomedical Centre in Ageing Medicine, of which the Musculoskeletal Research Group form a component.

The Musculoskeletal Research Group comprises a large group of clinicians and scientists working together to improve the diagnosis, management and understanding of arthritic diseases. Their focus is a collaborative mix of basic science and clinical research projects aimed at addressing the problems of arthritis and age-related musculoskeletal diseases, alongside other specialist areas in paediatric rheumatology and education research.

The EULAR award, together with recognition from Arthritis Research UK will be presented at a special ceremony at the university on May 4, attended by local dignitaries, researchers, fundraisers and patients.

The Musculoskeletal Research Group

• The range of research carried out has a broad base, from basic laboratory science to clinical and translational research. Specific themes encompass the synthesis and breakdown of joint tissues, the use of nanotechnology to inform prosthesis design, and the development and testing of novel immunotherapies, including cellular therapies. There is a strong education research group, and a big emphasis on improving treatment and care for children with arthritis.

• The research programme includes studies that address important aspects of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, identifying biomarkers of early disease as well as developing potential new treatments that will arrest development, block inflammatory mediators, and ultimately prevent the destruction of cartilage and bone. This combination of basic and translational science, underpinned by an immunotherapy unit and substantial patient cohorts, is invaluable in turning laboratory-based research into improved clinical care.

Rheumatoid arthritis – a potential new therapy?

• Professor Isaacs’ research programme centres on immunotherapy, and the team at the Wilson Horne Immunotherapy Centre is testing early-stage drugs, working with the pharmaceutical industry on phase one and two developmental studies. His team is now developing its own novel treatment, taking a patient’s own white blood cells, culturing them in a specific way and then returning them to the patient. The team is experimenting with this technique by targeting a single joint, using arthroscopy to measure success, and hopes to develop an exciting new therapy which could suppress the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, using patients’ own blood cells.

• The body’s immune responses are co-ordinated by dendritic cells. While mature dendritic cells are responsible for activating the immune system, another type, called tolerogenic dendritic cells, are believed to suppress immune system activity.

• The team have devised a way to chemically manipulate a patient’s own white blood cells such that they develop into tolerogenic dendritic cells, using chemicals, steroids and Vitamin D, before injecting them back into an inflamed knee joint.

Picture shows Prof John Isaacs, Prof Tim Cawston and Prof Jaap Van Laar. 

(Press release courtesy of Arthritis Research UK)


published on: 3rd May 2011

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