Characterising the molecular changes underpinning osteophyte formation and disc degeneration

Disease - Osteoarthritis

Lead applicant - Dr Chrissy Hammond

Organisation - University of Bristol

Type of grant - Project Grant

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £209,985

Start date - 7 January 2016

Reference - 21211

Public Summary

What are the aims of this research?

Chronic back pain affects between 15-40% of the population and includes conditions such as spinal osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease. This project plans to use zebrafish as a new animal model to study spinal conditions with the aim to help understand how specific genes cause spinal osteoarthritis.

Why is this research important?

The study has chosen to focus on spinal osteoarthritis and osteophyte formation (bony offshoots that form and protrude from the disks in the spine). These bony offshoots can put pressure on nerves in the spine causing pain and often numbness or tingling sensations in the hands and feet.

Despite their high incidence, there are few animal models that exist to help understand these conditions. Zebrafish are a particularly good model to use because they are surprisingly similar to humans and fluorescent markers within the fish can be switched on in the particular cells of interest. For these researchers, who are studying the spine, this means that when the genes are ‘switched on’ they can observe how the cells make 'choices' in the spine. This will help them identify the signals that lead up to osteophyte formation.

How will the findings benefit patients?

This study has the potential to uncover new drug targets for osteoarthritis of the spine and therefore has the potential for significant patient benefit in the longer term.