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New project to transform treatment for children with arthritis

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London will join a UK-wide effort to drive the development of new treatments for children and young people with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and its associated eye-inflammation condition, uveitis.

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The CLUSTER consortium has been awarded £5 million from the UK’s Medical Research Council with partnership funding from Arthritis Research UK, and aims is to improve the lives of children living with these life-changing, complex conditions.

Childhood arthritis affects around one in 1000 children and can cause long-term disability and poor quality of life. If it isn’t diagnosed and treated early, patients may require hip and knee replacements, and some end up in wheelchairs. For those patients who also have uveitis, a condition where the inside of the eyes become inflamed, there is also a significant risk of vision loss and blindness.

Currently, young people diagnosed with the condition in the UK are given a single drug therapy, but it only works in about 50 per cent of cases. The remaining half must try other treatments, one after the other, to find a therapy which works for them. Along the way, they may experience painful side effects, time out of school and even a worsening of their symptoms.

Speeding up and targeting therapies in the clinic

CLUSTER consortium team members
CLUSTER consortium team members

The five year project starts in May 2018 and will systematically analyse data from national studies and trials of patients. Ultimately, the researchers hope to identify a panel of tests that doctors can use to make sure treatments are targeted specifically to groups of patients with similar characteristics. The work will also allow researchers to better understand the condition and test advanced treatments for these debilitating conditions.

Dr Michael Barnes, Director of Bioinformatics at Queen Mary’s William Harvey Research Institute, said: “We are excited to be involved in the CLUSTER consortium, leading the integration of patient and genomic data in a data warehouse hosted in a cloud computing facility. This builds on similar work that we have been doing on other conditions, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis and Sjogren's Syndrome. Ultimately we hope to bring insight from other similar diseases to speed new therapies into the clinic for the treatment of JIA and Uveitis."

‘People don’t believe that children can get arthritis, but we do’

Eilean MacDonald, an 18-year-old patient, who was diagnosed with childhood arthritis as an 18-month-old baby, is taking part in the study. It took years of trying various medications until she found the right treatment to alleviate her symptoms. She’s now on crutches and requires an ankle replacement this summer.

Eilean said: “When you think of arthritis you see a 70-year-old lady with stiff hands, not an 18-month-old baby or a teenager. People don’t believe children can get arthritis but we do. I’ve missed school and had to quit activities I loved because of my condition.

“This research is so important – it could mean the next generation of kids with childhood arthritis won’t have to go through what I did. They could have the right therapy handpicked for them, reducing the impact it has on their lives. They could have even one piece of their life that’s more consistent and predictable while living with this disease.”

The CLUSTER consortium also involves investigators from UCL, GOSH, University of Manchester, University of Liverpool, Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and University of Cambridge, and will receive additional funding from GOSH Children’s Charity and Olivia’s Vision.

More information

  • Find out more about studying Medicine MBBS at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London.
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