Our ambitious plan to revolutionise pain research

Woman in pain curled up

At Versus Arthritis, we don’t accept that millions of people with arthritis across the UK should have to live in pain. That’s why we brought together leading pain experts and people with arthritis to devise an action plan to direct the future of pain research.

Our 'pain roadmap' prioritises the 14 most important challenges we must overcome to understand, treat and prevent pain, pinpointing the research areas most relevant to the lives of people with arthritis. Our ambitions are clear, we want to invest in the ideas which offer the best chance of developing new and better pain treatments and improved healthcare services in the near future, as well as pain prevention in the longer term.

Crucially, we know that Versus Arthritis can't do this alone, so we'll work in partnership with industry, funding organisations and government to encourage them to channel hundreds of millions of pounds into the areas of pain research highlighted in the roadmap. Craig Bullock, senior research lead for pain at Versus Arthritis, says: 

"The pain of arthritis steals life’s fundamentals. It can affect how we move, think, sleep and feel and our ability to work and spend time with loved ones. This must change.

"We’re proud of what we've already achieved through our research, but we need to do more. By further developing our understanding of pain and finding new ways to treat and prevent it, we can push back against the impact pain has had on people with arthritis for far too long.

Developing the pain roadmap

"The roadmap not only focuses on the pioneering science that will help us to understand the complexities of pain, it's also about challenges that are closer to the lives of people with arthritis right now, including how to manage pain effectively, improving healthcare services for people in pain and supporting people with arthritis pain to stay in work.

"We’ve already taken a significant step forwards, forging a new partnership between Versus Arthritis, the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research. Working with these major government funders, we'll improve the way pain is measured and enhance approaches to recording, tracking and analysing pain data. Both these areas of research could improve patient care and help us discover more about pain."

With this groundbreaking collaboration between scientists, healthcare professionals and people with arthritis, Versus Arthritis is leading the way. We hope this work will act as a catalyst, stimulating new and much-needed national investment in insight-driven pain research which could transform millions of lives.”

The roadmap has already informed the funding decisions for a £4 million pain research call earlier this year. Ten exciting new studies working to tackle the pain of inflammatory arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia have been funded in 2018, while this November Versus Arthritis is launching its next pain call. Pain researchers are invited to apply for awards of up to £1 million for innovative studies lasting up to 5 years.

Pain research driven by patient insight

People with arthritis are the driving force behind the pain roadmap. Their insight into the stark reality of living with pain is invaluable to researchers, ensuring we prioritise funding for the pain research primed to make the biggest difference.

43-year-old Colin Wilkinson is vice chair of our patient insight partner group (a group of volunteers with arthritis who influence and advise on research funding decisions and set the agenda for our research calls) and for the last three years has taken a leading role in our work on pain. He says:

"My arthritis has never gone into remission, so I'm no stranger to pain. I was involved in the development of the pain roadmap from the very beginning. As a patient insight partner, I was given the chance to have fascinating discussions with people who are world authorities on pain, to speak out and be listened to.

"I was determined to do everything I could to use my own experience to change the poor experience of pain management most people with arthritis have.

"It’s difficult to put into words how arthritis affects my life. Arthritis changes who you are. Even on days when the pain isn’t bad, it's there, like a wash on a film or a painting, colouring everything. I can put up with most pain, but I can't stand watching how it affects my family. This means I sometimes isolate myself, which isn't good for anyone.

No one gives you a guidebook to managing chronic pain – even after 20 years I'm learning new ways to cope more effectively.

Colin Wilkinson, vice chair of Versus Arthritis's patient insight partner group

"One of the things that shocked me the most about pain research is just how low down the priority list it is, particularly for the big funders. That’s something we really need to change.

"The pain roadmap identifies the priorities for future pain research. Yes, we need new and better treatments, but we also need to improve the way we measure pain and get a lot better at working out which of the tools available to tackle pain will work best for each individual. Once you find pain control that works for you, things get a lot easier. But, as our conditions change, we often need to revisit our treatment. It’s a process that can take months or years each time, so improving this will save people with arthritis an awful lot of pain and disruption to their lives.

"Being a patient insight partner means a great deal to me. It's an opportunity to make a real difference to the charity’s work and keep up with the latest research. I can give something back to a charity that has given me reliable information to help me manage my conditions for over 20 years, while working with a fantastic group of people. Most importantly, it's a chance to advance our understanding of arthritis and make a difference to people’s lives."

Making sure the patient voice is heard

"We make sure the patient voice is central to every research funding decision, ensuring money goes to the best proposals with the greatest potential to help people with arthritis. There are so many advantages to researchers having patients by their side on their journey. It means scientists have to explain their work without technical language or assumptions. This means looking at problems in a different way, hopefully leading to clearer thinking and new ideas, perhaps even the next class of painkillers.

"In terms of patient insight, we’ve come a remarkably long way in a short space of time. Involving patients in decisions about research has almost become second nature. The benefits this will bring are huge. Research led by greater patent insight, chosen by funding committees including experts and patients, should get us faster, better answers to the right questions to help us crack pain for more and more people."

Do you have a question about pain?  If so, we can help you to find the answer. Read our information about managing your pain, contact us on 0800 5200 520 or helpline@versusarthritis.org, or ask our Virtual Assistant.