Preventing unwanted bone formation in arthritis

Disease - Ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, osteoarthritis

Lead applicant - Professor Nicole Horwood

Organisation - University of East Anglia

Type of grant - Senior Research Fellowship

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £791,762

Start date - 1 October 2013

Reference - 20372

Public Summary

What are the aims of this research?

Previous work has identified a number of molecules produced by cells of the immune system that direct new bone formation in osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. The aim of this study is to investigate further their role in this process and assess whether blocking these molecules could lead to a new treatment for these conditions.

Why is this research important?

Although arthritis is associated with inflammation and bone loss it is often the formation of unwanted or inappropriately positioned new bone that leads to pain and stiffness in patients with ankylosing spondylitis and osteoarthritis. There are currently limited ways to remove or prevent this new bone formation. Work into fracture repair has shown that variations in the number and type of immune cells can directly affect the balance of bone maintenance. In arthritis, new bone formation tends to occur at sites where inflammation has been and there is evidence that immune cells drive this process by producing molecules that promote bone formation. There are currently no effective ways to prevent bone outgrowths in the joints of the spine, hip and hand and once the cycle of new bone growth has been initiated it is very difficult to control.

This study will ask:

  • Which immune cells produce bone promoting factors?
  • Is it possible to adjust the number of these cells to prevent bone formation?
  • Do higher levels of these molecules lead to more severe disease?
  • Does blocking them prevent unwanted bone growths in models of arthritis?

How will the findings benefit patients?

Developing ways to prevent or reverse unwanted bone formation will lead to a reduction of pain and stiffness in affected patients and improve their quality of life.