Britain’s Olympic athletes may be among the many people to benefit from a new biomedical research unit focusing on musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoarthritis which is launched in Manchester today (Wednesday).
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New £6m arthritis research unit is going for gold
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit (BRU) brings together experts from Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and The University of Manchester to tackle musculoskeletal diseases like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis which affect the joints and other tissues. Over 10 million people in the UK have some form of arthritis, which can affect children as well as adults.
One of the conditions the BRU will be investigating is osteoarthritis. The condition causes the cartilage which cushions the ends of the bones in the knees, hips and other joints to degrade. This leads to the bones rubbing together, causing pain, stiffness and reduced mobility. Current treatments include exercises, braces, drugs and joint replacement surgery.
Although exercise does not cause the condition, sportsmen and women may be at higher risk of developing it longer term because of injuries. England cricketer Andrew Flintoff and Spurs defender Ledley King are just two leading sportsmen who have experienced knee problems. Osteoarthritis can affect both elite sports people such as athletes, tennis players and footballers and those who enjoy impact sports such as rugby, cricket or running as a hobby.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Professor David Felson, who is leading the BRU’s work on evaluating new treatments, said: “We have exciting plans to test out new treatments and experimental approaches for knee arthritis, including braces, bone active drugs and treatments that are injected in the knee.
“Most importantly, the BRU will work to develop an experimental model for osteoarthritis, enabling us to trial many more treatments than with current methods. At the moment, to test a new treatment requires a large, long-term study with x-rays. Our goal is to make it feasible to assess new treatments with small numbers of patients over just a few months. Getting more treatments into the pipeline for testing and speeding up the process means patients will have faster access to new and better therapies across the NHS.”
The BRU Director, Professor Deborah Symmons, added: “The launch of the new unit under the ‘Going for Gold’ theme highlights our aim to deliver world class research to help people living with musculoskeletal disorders. Our ultimate goal is to deliver the best possible treatment for patients with arthritis, whatever the cause may be.”
The BRU has received funding from the NIHR (£4.9m) and the Department of Health (£1.5m). Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "We know that conditions like arthritis and rheumatism can have a devastating effect on peoples’ lives, so it is essential that we develop new treatments to help NHS patients and their families.
“Researchers working at this research unit will develop innovative new ways of treating these conditions which will have a real, lasting and positive impact on patient care.
“The Government is committed to supporting such work and bringing breakthroughs from every area to the front line of the NHS."
Professor Dame Sally C. Davies, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health said: “This NIHR Biomedical Research Unit in Manchester was selected on the basis of the world-class quality of its translational clinical research and its potential to pull findings from basic science into real benefits for patients and the NHS. The research into musculoskeletal diseases that will be carried out in this new Unit will improve the care and services for NHS patients, and improve people’s lives. The NIHR funding for this Unit is part of the record £800 million investment provided by the Government for translational research between 2012 and 2017."
Manchester has played a leading role in studying and treating musculoskeletal disorders since 1945, when the first research centre for the study of chronic rheumatism was set up at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
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