How we’re improving treatment options for people with osteoarthritis through research

28 November 2019
Sally Roberts in the lab with her colleagues.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the UK, affecting over 8 million people in the UK.

Research we’ve funded into treating damaged cartilage which can lead to osteoarthritis was featured on BBC’s The One Show.

The footage showed the team in Oswestry taking us through the procedure of autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI), which can be used to treat early onset osteoarthritis.

Marianne, who was diagnosed with the condition three years ago and had the ACI procedure earlier this year on her knee, featured live on the show. Before the surgery she was in a lot of pain, struggling to walk and was forced to leave her job as a fitness instructor. She is now recovering well, free of pain, back running and has even landed her new dream job. Read her story here.

The One Show team - presenters Angela Scalon and Amol Rajan with Andy Murray and Marianne

The One Show team - presenters Angela Scalon and Amol Rajan with Andy Murray and Marianne

What is the autologous chondrocyte implantation (or ACI) procedure?

The autologous chondrocyte implantation (or ACI) procedure sees a sample of cartilage removed from the knee, allowing doctors to grow a fresh supply of a person’s own healthy cartilage in a laboratory setting. Around three weeks later, these cells can then be put back into the damaged area (which can usually only be seen on an MRI scan).

Gradually, new cartilage starts to form in the treated area. Patients can expect to resume everyday use of the joint within three months, and full activities including sports after 12 months. It is not an alternative for joint replacements, but if used earlier in the process, it may stop full blown osteoarthritis developing. This means that it is particularly relevant for younger patients.

The treatment was developed by scientists in Goteborg. A group from the UK, led by Professor James Richardson travelled to see their work and The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital at Oswestry (together with the Orthopaedic Institute and Keele University) set up a laboratory for growing cells in Oswestry to perform ACI 20 years ago. They also run clinical trials and much research on ACI.

Professor Sally Roberts, who leads this research and featured on The One Show said:

“This treatment can make a difference in delaying the onset of osteoarthritis, particularly in younger people who have small areas of cartilage damage. While the procedure isn’t suitable for everyone, it shows the positive impact of early intervention and the importance of understanding the condition at all its stages.”

Why is research like this so important?

Research like this is so important, because we still don’t know what causes osteoarthritis. That means that it can be difficult to treat effectively. What works for one person might not work for someone else. There are also limited treatment options. With no drugs licensed to treat osteoarthritis, many people choose to manage their condition with painkillers and self-management techniques.

That’s why we are committed to funding leading research into the causes, treatments and potential cures of osteoarthritis. Some other research projects we’re supporting are:

Read more about our current research.