How has our research transformed the lives of people with arthritis?

07 July 2021
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Our research has helped us to make life-changing breakthroughs and improve the lives of millions of people with arthritis. Together we've achieved so much, but there is still more to do.

Our research achievements timeline (950KB, PDF) shows our significant milestones to date, from helping to reduce miscarriage in women with antiphospholipid syndrome, to delivering personalised treatment for back pain.

We’ve picked a few highlights to show how far we’ve come and why dedicated research is vital to bring positive change for people living with arthritis.

How can nurse-led care and shared decision making with patients improve gout treatment?

Gout is a painful condition caused by crystals that form in and around joints. It is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis in the UK.

Gout affects people whose bodies make too much of a waste product called urate, or people whose kidneys can’t get rid of enough urate. When crystals form, they can rub against the joint’s lining, causing swelling and inflammation. This is commonly called an ‘attack’ of gout, and it can cause tender, red, hot and swollen joints.

Urate-lowering therapies (ULTs), such as  allopurinol, reduce the amount of urate in people’s bodies. ULTs can prevent crystals from forming and dissolve crystals that already exist, so they can prevent painful attacks. Gout is essentially the only ‘’curable’’ form of arthritis, because if you’re on the right dose of allopurinol your uric acid levels will be brought down enough to dissolve all the crystals in your joints. But across the UK, only about half of people with gout take ULTs, and people who do take them may not understand the right way to take them. 

We funded research led by Professor Michael Doherty at the University of Nottingham to train nurses to deliver individualised care to people with gout.

The nurses provided tailored education to make people aware of their treatment options and to address any misconceptions they had about their gout. They also involved them closely in making decisions about their treatment.

The team found that, after two years, almost all of the people being cared for by nurses (96% of people) were taking ULTs, and a similarly high proportion of them (95% of people) had their urate levels drop to a recommended level. This was a major improvement compared to people who had the standard GP-led care, which resulted in only 50% of people taking ULTs and 30% with recommended urate levels.

These research findings demonstrate that involving patients in their care and educating them about their condition can lead to improved treatment outcomes. The team are now looking to train nurses and use this care model in GP practices to show that it is feasible and cost effective.

Malcolm’s story 

One person whose life was transformed by nurse-led gout care was Malcolm, who enrolled in the study that we funded.

“I got my life back within a year”, he said. His allopurinol dose increased, his urate levels dropped, and his pain subsided. Today, Malcolm describes himself as gout-free. “I’m passionate about getting the message out there that gout is easily treatable,” said Malcolm. “People don’t need to suffer that level of pain.” 

Find out more about this study and Malcolm’s story.

How can taking part in regular exercise reduce the pain of osteoarthritis?

Millions of people in the UK live with pain or reduced mobility from knee and/or hip osteoarthritis. Many people are on long-term pain relief and are not always provided with self-management options which can help physical and mental wellbeing.

Our funding enabled Professor Mike Hurley at St George’s, University of London, to develop an exercise programme called ‘Enabling Self-management and Coping with Arthritis Pain through Exercise’ – or ESCAPE-pain.

ESCAPE-pain is a six-week programme of education, integrated exercise and self-management delivered in a group setting by a physiotherapist or a fitness instructor. 

ESCAPE-pain has shown to: 

  • reduce pain 
  • improve physical function 
  • increase quality of life and general well-being 
  • reduce use of healthcare services and medication 

Ken’s story

Ken has had osteoarthritis in his left knee for 20 years. Having always been active, it came as a shock when pain put his life on hold.

“I couldn’t sleep at night, I was then tired all day, and that made me not want to do anything. I was struggling to get out of my chair, put my shoes and socks on and it was making me depressed.”

Ken took part in the ESCAPE-pain course, and now that he has finished the course, he goes to his local gym three times a week.

“I’m feeling good, better than I was and it’s all through exercise. My diabetes is under control and I have lost some weight. I have improved the strength of the muscles in my leg.”

Read more about Ken’s story and how exercise has changed his life.

Find out more about our research into ESCAPE-Pain or visit the ESCAPE-pain website.

How can finding the right treatment for eye inflammation in children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis help prevent sight loss?

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is a painful inflammatory arthritis that affects 12,000 children and young people across the UK.

JIA, which develops in people under 16, can be difficult to control and can lead to additional health conditions, including eye inflammation (uveitis). When uveitis isn’t controlled, it can cause eye pain, redness and blurry vision. When severe, it can cause permanent blindness.

Some treatments – including steroids and methotrexate – can help, but they don’t work for everyone. Even with treatment, some people are still at risk of losing their sight.

The SYCAMORE study, which we funded in partnership with the National Institute for Health Research, investigated whether adding a drug called adalimumab to treatment with methotrexate could help. 

Adalimumab is a biological therapy – a type of treatment made from proteins or other substances produced by the body. It binds to a protein in the body called tumour necrosis factor (TNF), which causes inflammation. By binding to TNF, adalimumab stops inflammation and relieves symptoms of arthritis and uveitis. 

The study was a major success – SYCAMORE showed that using adalimumab alongside methotrexate is effective at controlling uveitis in children with JIA, and helps prevent vision loss. In fact, the early results from SYCAMORE were so strong that the study’s independent committee took the rare step of stopping the trial early so that all the children on the trial could benefit from this treatment. 

As a result of the evidence from SYCAMORE, health authorities updated policies in England to make sure every young person with JIA and uveitis has access to adalimumab and methotrexate, meaning that less children are at risk of losing their sight.

Read more about the success of SYCAMORE and how it’s changed the way health professionals treat young people with JIA.

These are just a few of our achievements, find out more on our research achievements.

How you can get involved in our research

We need research to help us find out more about what causes bone and joint problems. We will shortly be launching new and exciting opportunities to get involved in our research.

For more information, or to find out how you can become involved, please email: patientinsight@versusarthritis.org

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