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Top 10 research advances of 2023

Research advances are transforming how arthritis is diagnosed, treated and prevented.

Thanks to the generosity and vision of our donors and supporters, Arthritis Society Canada is the leading charity in funding life-changing arthritis research across the country. With this crucial support, our brightest 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 this devastating disease, researchers are turning your support into discoveries to relentlessly fight the fire of arthritis. Here are some of the many advances made possible in 2023.

Improving access to osteoarthritis care for diverse women

Anna GagliardiDr. Anna Gagliardi, University Health Network 

The finding: Interviews with diverse women with osteoarthritis and healthcare professionals across Canada suggest at least 18 strategies to overcome barriers to accessing equitable, person-centred osteoarthritis care for women in Canada. Recommended strategies respond to gaps in clinical guidelines and consider patients, healthcare providers, and the healthcare system. 

The future: This research is closing the knowledge gap to inform clinical guidelines, healthcare professional education, and programs and policies to optimize osteoarthritis care for disadvantaged communities, including diverse women across the country. 

Blocking inflammation in gout

Dr. Ali Abdul-SaterDr. Ali Abdul-Sater, York University 

The finding: A protein called TRAF1 protects against inflammation and swelling in gout by blocking the activation of a protein complex called the inflammasome. 

The future: TRAF1 can be studied as a new therapeutic target in gout to potentially lead to relief for more than one million Canadians who live with this painful and debilitating disease. 

Understanding joint lubrication in osteoarthritis

Antoine DuFourDr. Antoine Dufour and Dr. Roman Krawetz, University of Calgary 

The finding: An enzyme called Tryptase β may contribute to osteoarthritis by interfering with the anti-inflammatory and joint lubricating activities of a protein called PRG4 in the joint lining. 

Roman KrawetzThe future: This research supports the idea of developing a new treatment to slow osteoarthritis by injecting the affected joint with a drug to block the undesired actions of Tryptase β, while also injecting a lab-developed form of PRG4 to boost its protective levels. 

A decade of progress in childhood arthritis

CAPRIDr. Jaime Guzman and nationwide researchers of the Canadian Alliance of Pediatric Rheumatology Investigators (CAPRI) 

The finding: A snapshot of patient data collected from children across Canada diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis over a decade shows that with the growing use of biologics and other disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, the proportion of children achieving inactive disease has also gone up. 

The future: Understanding how the treatment landscape is evolving and its link to patient outcomes will help pediatric rheumatologists better communicate options with newly diagnosed families. 

Predicting persistent osteoarthritis pain

Christie CostelloChristie Costello, Memorial University of Newfoundland 
Supervisor: Dr. Guangju Zhai  
Dr. Anthony Perruccio, University Health Network 

The finding: In people with knee osteoarthritis, traces of a biochemical process called phosphatidylcholine metabolism that can be detected in blood are associated with lingering pain even after joint replacement surgery. 

Anthony PerruccioDr. Guangju ZhaiThe future: This could lead to a blood test to predict who is likely to still have treatment-resistant pain after joint replacement. The blood test could be used to create better care plans. It also suggests that future metabolism-altering treatments might be able to reduce knee osteoarthritis pain. 

Signs of ankylosing spondylitis in the blood

Dr. Fataneh TavasolianDr. Fataneh Tavasolian, University Health Network 
Supervisor: Dr. Robert Inman 

The finding: Tiny particles called exosomes that carry molecular messages between cells can be found in the blood of people with ankylosing spondylitis. Their distinguishing patterns of proteins and other molecules help explain why the immune system goes out of control in this disease. 

Dr. Robert InmanThe future: These features could be used as biomarkers (signs in the blood) to help detect and diagnose ankylosing spondylitis and provide many new potential targets for future drug development to treat this painful disease. 

Hip cartilage health in young adults

Carly JonesCarly Jones, University of British Columbia
Supervisor: Dr. David Wilson 

The finding: Bone marrow lesions (BMLs, bone features linked to osteoarthritis pain that can be seen with medical imaging) are found underneath damaged hip cartilage in young adults with hip pain, further emphasizing the role that BMLs may play in osteoarthritis.  

Dr. David WilsonThe future: Confirming the relationship between BMLs and cartilage breakdown in the hip early in the osteoarthritis disease process is an important step in predicting and slowing the progression of joint damage.  

Sensitivity to pain from physical activity

Dr. Timothy WidemanDr. Timothy Wideman, McGill University 

The finding: A molecular sign of inflammation detected in the saliva of people with back pain can distinguish who might experience more pain from physical activity, which is usually recommended to reduce joint pain. A new assessment tool based on pain experienced during tasks can also give a better picture of the impact of this sensitivity on pain and mood in daily life, compared to traditional pain questionnaires. 

The future: These insights can help physical therapists and other health and exercise professionals to develop and prescribe more personalized physical activity programs or routines to help effectively manage pain in daily life for people with back pain. 

Particle-based drug delivery for osteoarthritis

Dr. Jean-Philippe St-PierreDr. Jean-Philippe St-Pierre, University of Ottawa

The finding: Small particles made from a type of molecule called polyphosphate can be used to effectively deliver drugs into the cartilage that pads the joints – a typically hard-to-reach area for drugs.  

The future: This research validates the need to look beyond drugs themselves and further explore their delivery into the body to extend therapeutic benefits for diseases involving cartilage degeneration, like osteoarthritis. This could lead to new, more effective treatments for millions of people living with osteoarthritis.  

Intriguing similarities between systemic sclerosis and cancer

Dr. Mohamed OsmanDr. Mohamed Osman, University of Alberta

The finding: People with systemic sclerosis, a potentially life-threatening form of inflammatory arthritis that causes scar tissue build-up, have unusually high levels of specific carbohydrates in their skin and blood. These carbohydrates are often seen in aggressive cancers. 

The future: Discovering connections between systemic sclerosis and cancer may help explain how systemic sclerosis starts and progresses. It also points to the possibility of using these carbohydrates as a biomarker (a sign in skin or blood samples) for more severe disease. 


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