Dr Fiona Watt awarded prestigious UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship

Fiona with a patient in her clinic, looking at the patients knee.

Earlier this week, Dr Fiona Watt, head of our Musculoskeletal Disorders Research Advisory Group, was awarded a prestigious UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship that will allow her to further her research into better treatments for people living with and at risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Fiona carries out research in two of our centres of excellence: the osteoarthritis pathogenesis centre, and the centre for sport, exercise and osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the UK, affecting over 8 million people. It can have a massive impact on a person’s life and is one of the leading causes of persistent pain.

There’s an urgent need to find new treatments that can slow or prevent osteoarthritis. Many clinical trials have failed, perhaps because not everyone gets progressive symptoms or damage, or because osteoarthritis is often relatively advanced (and perhaps less reversible) in those who volunteer to take part in studies.

Fiona said: “Our ability to find new effective treatments may improve if we can intervene earlier, identifying and targeting treatments for those at risk of progression. My studies focus on a subgroup of people with a major risk factor for osteoarthritis: acute joint injury, where around 50% of individuals develop so called ‘post-traumatic osteoarthritis’ (PTOA). We have shown that joint injury triggers an immediate, inflammatory, mechanically driven response, some of which appears necessary for later osteoarthritis.”

Dr Watt’s KICK study follows people with acute knee injury over five years. They hope to measure important processes that happen at the time of the joint injury, which are associated with switching on (or off) post-traumatic osteoarthritis. They will look at whether these measurements could allow them to identify an individual’s future risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Fiona’s recently awarded fellowship will build on initial findings, working with researchers in the UK and internationally, testing larger numbers of markers in larger numbers of individuals for the first time. These studies will also reveal how similar or different post-traumatic osteoarthritis and ‘usual’ osteoarthritis are. This isn’t currently known and is incredibly important.

Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Research at Versus Arthritis said: “We are thrilled to hear about Dr Fiona Watt’s fellowship which is thoroughly well deserved. We have been honoured to support such an understanding researcher like Fiona during her career; the award of this prestigious fellowship exemplifies her excellence in research and commitment to improving the lives of people with arthritis and we look forward to continuing to work with her in the future”.

To learn more about the ongoing research we’re supporting and how to apply for funding, please visit our dedicated research pages.