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New research takes aim at back pain in arthritis

One of 14 new awards announced by the Arthritis Society, brings annual research commitment to nearly $4 million

December 18, 2019 – TORONTO – Back pain. It’s the #1 cause of disability worldwide, so odds are you’ve probably experienced it. If you’re lucky, it went away after a few days. If you’re not so lucky, like many of the 6 million Canadians living with arthritis, it’s a constant companion that severely restricts your ability to live your life.

Western University’s Dr. Cheryle Séguin wants to do something about that. While the specific causes of back pain are not well understood, in arthritis it is often associated with degeneration of the intervertebral discs – the joints that anchor vertebrae along the spine. Disc degeneration is extremely common, and yet very little is known about what causes it.

“We’re studying the biology of disc degeneration and common spine disorders and testing potential new treatments,” says Dr. Séguin. “The hope is that this research will lead to new treatments to prevent disc degeneration and back pain.”

The project is just one of the research funding awards announced today by the Arthritis Society. The list includes recipients of Stars Career Development Awards and Strategic Operating Grants, bringing this year’s total donor-funded research investment to nearly $4 million.

The Stars Career Development Awards were created to help establish the careers of early- and mid-career investigators, while the Strategic Operating Grant program provides funding for promising research projects.  Collectively, the Arthritis Society’s research programs aim to facilitate discoveries that both enhance care for people living with arthritis today and open the door for the new treatments and cures of tomorrow.

This year’s award announcements were particularly exciting because of a new collaboration between the Arthritis Society and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis (CIHR-IMHA), the federal government’s funding arm for arthritis research. Two early-career Stars awards are co-funded by CIHR-IMHA, and three mid-career Stars awards are wholly funded by CIHR-IMHA. All awards were adjudicated by the Arthritis Society.

“We welcome collaboration in this space,” explains Dr. Siân Bevan, Chief Science Officer at the Arthritis Society. “It’s gratifying to see the government’s confidence in our best-in-class peer review process, and more gratifying still to see this commitment of federal funding to amplify the scope and impact of these programs, supporting our donor-driven investments into causes, cures and care.”

The Arthritis Society’s open call research competition culminates in a full scientific peer review, drawing on the input of scientists, clinicians and patients alike. The organization holds itself to a high standard in funding research projects that have the potential to generate the most impact in solving the unanswered challenges of arthritis.

The list of new grants and awards announced includes:

Stars Career Development Awards – Early Career

  • Dr. Jean-Philippe St-Pierre, University of Ottawa: Cryptic pericellular matrix peptides: Bioactive molecules for osteoarthritis treatment (co-funded with CIHR-IMHA)
  • Dr. John Trant, University of Windsor: Interfering with the HLA-antigen interaction: Towards a safe therapeutic for rheumatoid arthritis and new immunological probes (co-funded with CIHR-IMHA)
  • Dr. Évelyne Vinet, McGill University Health Centre: Risk of infections with tumour necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFi) in pregnant women and their offspring
  • Dr. Jackie Whittaker, University of British Columbia: Preventing osteoarthritis after a sport-related knee injury
  • Dr. Jessica Widdifield, Sunnybrook Research Institute: Using real world data to enhance patient care and outcomes and health system performance for rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases

Stars Career Development Awards – Mid Career (funded by CIHR-IMHA)

  • Dr. Claire Barber, University of Calgary: A Better Match: Transforming rheumatoid arthritis care through tailored follow-up strategies based on disease activity and patient complexity, a pragmatic randomized controlled trial
  • Dr. Monica Maly, University of Waterloo: Move Well Live Well: Using the science of movement to tailor exercise and rehabilitation for osteoarthritis to promote better living
  • Dr. Cheryle Séguin, Western University: Investigating the pathogenesis of common spine disorders: Discovery-based approaches to identify therapeutic targets

Strategic Operating Grants

  • Dr. Fawzi Aoudjit, Université Laval: Role of discoidin domain receptor 1 in T cell migration and arthritis
  • Dr. Éric Boilard, Université Laval: Platelets and neutrophils: The two culprits mediating pain in inflammatory arthritis
  • Dr. Nigil Haroon, University Health Network: Identifying the origin of new bone formation in spondyloarthritis and targeting Macrophage Migration Inhibitory Factor (MIF) to stop osteoproliferation in a pre-clinical study
  • Dr. Walter Herzog, University of Calgary: New dietary and exercise intervention strategies for patients with obesity and osteoarthritis of the knee: Translating preclinical innovation to patient populations
  • Dr. Robert Inman, University Health Network: T cell dysregulation in ankylosing spondylitis
  • Dr. Cheryle Séguin, Western University: Obesity, disc degeneration and back pain: Nuclear receptors as therapeutic targets

For more information on these grants and awards, and the other research investments our donors and supporters make possible, visit

About the Arthritis Society

The Arthritis Society is a national health charity, fueled by donors and volunteers, with a vision to live in a world where people are free from the devastating effects of arthritis. Begun in 1948 with one very clear goal – to alleviate the suffering of people with arthritis – that same volunteer-led passion carries on today in communities across Canada. Through the trust and support of our donors and sponsors, the Arthritis Society is Canada’s largest charitable source of investments in cutting-edge arthritis research, proactive advocacy and innovative information and support that will deliver better health outcomes for people affected by arthritis. The Arthritis Society is accredited under Imagine Canada’s Standards Program. Visit

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For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Douglas Emerson
tel: 416-979-7228 ext. 3348
cell: 647.706.0440

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