Versus Arthritis and Our Future Health

Our Future Health | 20.01.22

Tell us what Versus Arthritis does?

I’m Sarah Rudkin, head of research strategy at Versus Arthritis, we’re the UK’s largest public funder of research into treatments, interventions and ultimately cures for arthritis and related conditions.

As well as supporting research, we campaign to defy the dismissal of arthritis, that it’s seen as a priority, and we provide support through our helpline and services for and with people with arthritis across the UK.

There are 20.3 million people living with musculoskeletal conditions in the UK, that’s one in four people. Around half of those live in pain every single day.

Why is what you do so important?

Arthritis has a huge impact on people’s lives – it affects your ability to work, to care for your family, to move free from pain and live independently. Yet arthritis is often dismissed as an inevitable part of ageing or shrugged off as ‘just a bit of arthritis’. This is not OK, and we want to change that.

We want research to make a bigger difference to people’s lives, quicker – making things better than they are now. We want to take the uncertainty out of diagnosis and treatment, reducing anxiety for those waiting for a diagnosis and the inevitability of living with long-term disability. Ultimately, we want research to make arthritis preventable, manageable, and treatable. It’s fundamental to our goal – detailed in our new research strategy – to make sure no one lives alone with the pain, fatigue, and isolation of arthritis.

We’ll focus on translational research – turning observations in the laboratory, clinic and community into better treatments that directly improve the lives of people with arthritis. We’re guided by the arthritis community, researchers and healthcare professions to ensure the research we fund provides the answers to the priorities that people with arthritis have raised.

What impact could Our Future Health have on detecting, preventing and treating arthritis?

Our Future Health should be a valuable common resource for arthritis researchers. Well-defined cohorts which link samples and data are important for research into long-term health conditions like arthritis.

People with arthritis tell us about how stressful it can be to get a diagnosis. We know it can take a lot of time and is not always straightforward. Early symptoms can be similar across different conditions and quite often people are living with more than one long-term condition. Delays can mean years of disease progression and can lead to complications, such as increased pain levels and reduced mobility. We urgently need better tools and biomarkers to diagnose arthritis accurately and rapidly, particularly in children and young people.

People are living longer these days and many people live with more than one long term health condition. Our Future Health should provide a platform to aid researchers’ understanding of how health changes across diseases as people age.

Our Future Health will help collaborations and consortia come together and allow researchers to focus on the science of the questions that need answering without needing to engage so much in gathering samples and data.

We also know that once you get a diagnosis, finding the right treatments can be a years-long ordeal of trial and error. In some forms of arthritis, treatments like anti-TNF can be very effective, but they don’t work for everyone. Understanding who will do better on which treatment will mean we can reduce the time people spend living in pain by getting them the right treatment faster. Our Future Health should help the speed of science and the pace of progress.

Having access to biological samples and questionnaire data will facilitate our work across a range of areas of arthritis research, supporting understanding of pre-symptomatic markers and underlying symptom development, the variations in treatment responses and potentially identifying new treatment options. The reach of the cohort across the UK and to varied populations will add real breadth and depth to aid the understanding of the determinants of musculoskeletal health.

With the prevalence of arthritis in the UK projected to increase, its impact on our health system and economy are immense. Arthritis remains the principal driver of disability in the UK so it’s of real national significance that we all work to ensure good musculoskeletal health throughout our lifetime. The more we know about arthritis and related conditions – what causes people to develop them and how they progress – the better chance we have of being able to detect them earlier and to prevent both onset and worsening of the condition.

Having accurate and timely diagnosis and treatment will end the anxiety of living with undiagnosed symptoms and the uncertainty that the future poses for those living with the condition. Having confidence in treatments and knowledge of how to maintain musculoskeletal health will be transformational steps towards ensuring that more people with arthritis can live well with their condition.

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