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Top 10 research advances of 2022

Recent research advances are transforming the future of arthritis.

Thanks to the generosity and vision of our donors and supporters, Arthritis Society Canada is the leading charity in funding cutting-edge arthritis research across the country. With this crucial support, innovative minds are answering the most pressing research questions spanning the many types of arthritis. Whether working in the lab, the clinic, or alongside people living with arthritis in their everyday lives, researchers are turning your support into discoveries to relentlessly fight the fire of arthritis. Here are some of the many advances made possible in 2022.

Blood markers for rapid osteoarthritis progression

Dr. S. Amanda AliDr. S. Amanda Ali, University Health Network (Supervisors: Dr. Mohit Kapoor and Dr. Rajiv Gandhi) and Dr. Andy Kin On Wong, University Health Network

Finding: A specific pattern of molecules can be detected in the blood of people with early-stage knee osteoarthritis that accurately predicts who will have more rapid disease progression.

Dr. Andy Kin On WongFuture: With further validation, this molecular signature could help identify people who would benefit most from approaches to try to prevent progressive joint damage and maintain joint health before the disease becomes severe.

How a gut protein and bacteria promote inflammatory arthritis

Etienne DoréEtienne Doré, CHU de Québec – Université Laval (Supervisor: Dr. Éric Boilard)

Finding: A protein naturally present in the gut acts directly on intestinal bacteria to cause changes in the immune system and promote inflammatory arthritis in mice.

Future: Additional research may unravel which bacteria might be protective or damaging in relation to inflammatory arthritis in people, and whether treatments that impact gut bacteria could offer a new approach to preventing or treating inflammatory arthritis.

How to promote knee health after injury to prevent osteoarthritis

Dr. Jackie WhittakerDr. Jackie Whittaker and Justin Losciale, University of British Columbia – Arthritis Research Canada

Finding: Leading an extensive collaboration between 36 international clinical and scientific experts led to a consensus-based set of recommendations grounded in the best available evidence on how to optimize knee health after injury to prevent osteoarthritis. 

Justin LoscialeFuture: Specific recommendations for clinicians will help guide the development and implementation of post-injury knee rehabilitation programs focused on patients’ needs. Recommendations for researchers will help prioritize and coordinate initiatives to address the most pressing gaps in existing knowledge on preventing post-injury osteoarthritis.

Toward personalized treatment for rheumatoid arthritis

Dr. Vidyanand AnapartiDr. Vidyanand Anaparti, University of Manitoba (Supervisors: Dr. Hani El-Gabalawy and Dr. Neeloffer Mookherjee)

Finding: A specific pattern of molecules detected in a tiny biopsy sample of joint lining tissue from people with early rheumatoid arthritis can predict whether they will respond to – or resist – routine treatments and how they will fare in the long term.

Future: With further validation, this could help rheumatologists match patients with medications most likely to be effective from the outset, avoiding the common cycle of trial and error to ultimately improve their disease control sooner.

Cannabis chemical to reduce joint pain and inflammation

Dr. Jason McDougallDr. Jason McDougall, Dalhousie University

Finding: Myrcene is one of the hundreds of chemicals found in cannabis that give it a distinct odour, and applying it to chronically arthritic rat joints reduced joint pain and inflammation.

Future: The promise this understudied cannabis chemical showed in lab models requires further research into whether myrcene or myrcene-rich cannabis strains could offer more relief to people with chronic arthritis pain.

A new drug target in inflammatory arthritis

Dr. Fawzi AoudjitDr. Fawzi Aoudjit, Université Laval

Finding: An underexplored molecular signal triggers a highly inflammatory type of immune cell to promote the development of arthritis. Blocking this signalling made arthritis less severe in mice.

Future: Appreciating the critical role of this signalling pathway in the immune system and in inflammatory arthritis identifies it as a possible target for the development of new innovative therapies.

The winding paths in childhood arthritis treatment

Dr. Luiza GrazziotinDr. Luiza Grazziotin, University of Calgary (Supervisor: Dr. Deborah Marshall) and the UCAN CURE Consortium

Finding: The patterns of how children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) are prescribed medications can follow a complex trial-and-error path, with more than 100 different sequences identified in medical records. While almost half of children are prescribed a biologic medication, many must try a second or third.

Future: No child with arthritis is the same, but they are not alone. This research highlights the need for personalized medicine to get the right treatments to the right children at the right time, and also sheds light on real-world prescribing practices.

Potential biomarkers for spine degeneration

Dr. Lisbet Haglund, Dr. Hosni Cherif and Matthew MannarinoDr. Lisbet Haglund, Dr. Hosni Cherif, and Matthew Mannarino, McGill University

Finding: A set of genes in the cells of intervertebral discs (the tissue in between the bones of the spine) can predict whether the discs are degenerating, which could be useful as new biomarkers.

Future: With further study, these biomarkers could help identify a degenerative cause of low back pain, and may give researchers new ideas on how low back pain starts at a cellular level and how to treat it.

Genetic links between systemic sclerosis and cancer

Dr. Mohamed OsmanDr. Mohamed Osman, University of Alberta

Finding: In systemic sclerosis – a rare but deadly autoimmune disease that can involve the skin, internal organs, and joints – cells in affected skin have gene mutations similar to those seen in many cancers.

Future: Understanding more about how systemic sclerosis may be driven by cancer-like changes in its early stages may reveal opportunities to repurpose cancer therapies as novel treatments for this devastating disease.

People with arthritis need more information and support

​Dr. Elizabeth Badley, Jessica Wilfong, and Dr. Anthony PerruccioDr. Elizabeth Badley, Jessica Wilfong, and Dr. Anthony Perruccio, University Health Network and Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit (ACREU)

Finding: Almost half of people diagnosed with arthritis don’t actually know what type they have. While they still experience significant pain, disability and fatigue, they may have lower health literacy and are less likely to access healthcare, information and support services to help them manage their disease.

Future: This highlights the incredible importance of educating people with arthritis and their healthcare providers on arthritis self-management and making sure every arthritis patient is given the tools they need to understand their diagnosis and manage their lifestyle.

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