Improving our care and understanding of childhood arthritis and related conditions

24 February 2021
A group of young people taking part in research.

We have more exciting research news to share. We have awarded the UK’s Experimental Arthritis Treatment Centre for Children (EATC4Children) a further three years of funding from March 2021 to continue the great strides they’ve already made to help develop new and better treatments for childhood arthritis and related conditions.

What is the EATC4Children?

The EATC4Children is based in Liverpool at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Liverpool. They work in close partnership with colleagues at the University of Sheffield, Bristol and University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust.

The goals of the EATC4Children are focused on:

  • improving the health and wellbeing of children and young people with arthritis and related conditions.
  • identifying and testing new treatments specifically targeted at children, with a focus on therapies not yet tested in children, including early laboratory-based studies and clinical trials.

All of the work carried out in the centre is inspired by and involves children, young people affected by arthritis, and their families, and the research is always directed towards answering the priority questions they have.

What do we mean by experimental research?

Experimental medicine is an area of research that bridges the gap between basic research and clinical trials, so taking early research from the lab and into people.

This area of research allows us to get a better understanding of how the body works in healthy individuals compared to how this changes in disease. Thanks to advances in technology, we are now better able to study this in people, which will allow fascinating new insights into disease mechanisms.

How is the centre involving and helping children and their families?

Lily Whitehead is just one volunteer that has participated in EATC4Children studies including the SYCAMORE trial, which tested the effectiveness of the drug Adalimumab for the treatment of juvenile arthritis-associated uveitis.

Talking about her experience of being part of the study, Lily said

“I used to have to take tablets that made me feel ill. The injections (Adalimumab) hurt a little bit but were so much better than the tablets.

“Once I started taking the injections, my joints and eyes got better really quickly. Now, we are able to do the injections at home and it makes life a lot easier, we don’t have to keep travelling to the hospital.

“The teams at the centre were so kind, they helped me a lot and it was nice knowing they were there to talk to. It was a really positive thing being part of a research study”.

What has the centre already achieved?

The EATC4Children leads a wide range of studies addressing the needs of children and young people with arthritis, arthritis-associated uveitis, lupus, scleroderma, metabolic, inflammatory and orthopaedic bone-related conditions, and a number of other disease areas including childhood Behcet’s disease, dermatomyositis and renal inflammatory disorders.

Highlights so far include:

  • Improving treatment for children with uveitis – the APTITUDE trial is a landmark trial developed and delivered by the EATC4Children aimed to find the best way to treat children with the most extreme and severe eye inflammation associated with childhood arthritis (uveitis) that had failed all other treatments, including even anti-TNF therapy.

The trial provided evidence that tocilizumab might be a useful adjunctive therapeutic option for children with uveitis refractory to anti-TNF treatments.

  • Collaboration in the field – the EATC4Children has been part of the enormously important and successful bid to form the MRC Stratified Medicine CLUSTER Consortium and leads its Uveitis and Industry work streams.

This collaborative initiative brings together the UK’s leading childhood arthritis and uveitis experts to help personalise treatment, find and test new treatments, and predict disease outcomes for childhood arthritis and uveitis.

  • Leading research into childhood lupus – lupus in children is known to be generally more severe than in adults, causing more damage and needing more intense treatments, and can affect any of the body’s organs having a life-changing impact on those affected.

The EATC4Children leads a major program of translational research, supporting one of the largest national cohorts of patients with lupus in the world with over 750 patients now recruited, identifying markers in the body that identify whether you will respond to treatments for tackling this complex disease.

How will this renewed funding make a difference?

Professor Michael Beresford, Director of the EATC4Children explains:

“The UK’s EATC4Children has been instrumental over the past six years, nationally and internationally, in tackling these major inflammatory conditions affecting children and young people.

“This renewed commitment from Versus Arthritis enables us to take forward our world-leading translational biomedical research (bench-to-bedside and back again) that helps us improve our understanding, our care and most importantly, the health and wellbeing of children and young people growing up with these life-changing disorders.”

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