Faculty of Medical Sciences


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

Staff List

Dr Fraser Birrell
Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5548

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

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5363

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5548

Dr Andrew Gennery
Clinical Reader/Consultant

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 282 5234

Dr Catharien Hilkens
Reader in Immunotherapy

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 8026

Professor John Isaacs
Director of Therapeutics North East

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5784 (Institute Business) +44 (0) 191 208 5337 (Academic business)

Dr Lesley Kay
Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 4373

Dr Desa Lilic
Associate Clinical Lecturer


Professor John Loughlin
Prof of Musculoskeletal Research

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 241 8988

Professor Fai Ng
Professor of Rheumatology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 3449

Dr Arthur Pratt
Intermediate Clinical Fellow, Honorary Consulatant Rheumatologist

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5462

Kenneth Rankin
Clinical Fellow/Honorary Consultant

Telephone: 0191 222 3849

Professor Drew Rowan
Professor of Molecular Rheumatology

Telephone: +44 (0)191 208 8821/7541

Dr David Walker
Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer

Professor David Young
Professor of Musculoskeletal Biology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 241 8831