Versus Arthritis receives £160,000

Last year, Versus Arthritis received a grant of £160,000 to fund a PhD studentship at the University of Liverpool Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease. A student has now been appointed and will be researching new ways to tackle chronic pain in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Tackling chronic pain

PhD student Michele Fresneda Alarcon will work alongside Dr Helen Wright, Dr Marie Phelan and Prof Robert Moots to find a new way to switch off the harmful pain experienced by people living with rheumatoid arthritis, by reprogramming cells in the body that cause inflammation.

The Liverpool-based researchers hope that the new study will provide better treatments for the hundreds of thousands of people who are living with excruciating pain, and provide hope to those who have had little or no success with current analgesia and treatments.

Dr Natalie Carter, Head of Research Liaison and Evaluation at Versus Arthritis: “Rheumatoid arthritis can have a huge impact on people’s lives, affecting their ability to move freely and stealing their right to do the things they love. As well as joints, rheumatoid arthritis can affect the whole body. Keeping the condition under control is so important for people with arthritis. Not all treatments work for everyone, so the need to develop new treatments is vital.

“We want to thank the Freemasons for supporting Michele as he sets out to understand more about the processes that occur in cells involved in rheumatoid arthritis. We hope that this new study can help to identify new targets and enable the development of new treatments, to help people live the pain-free life they deserve.”

Rheumatoid arthritis affects over 400,000 people in the UK

Rheumatoid arthritis currently affects over 400,000 people in the UK. The condition affects people of all ages and can cause devastating pain, making everyday tasks that many take for granted incredibly difficult. It is known as an auto-immune condition. This means that the immune system, which is the body’s natural self-defence system, starts to attack your body’s healthy tissues. In rheumatoid arthritis, the main way it does this is with inflammation in your joints, which causes pain, swelling and stiffness.

Reprogramming the immune system

The researchers will attempt to re-programme a type of white blood cell, called neutrophils, which are involved in the body’s natural healing processes. Previous research has shown that neutrophils can behave differently in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The cells can activate several chemical processes that contribute to the inflammation and subsequent joint damage.

The team are keen to develop a greater understanding of these chemical processes, in order to identify a new way to switch off or better regulate the harmful inflammation seen in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This study may allow the researchers to identify new treatments that reduce joint damage and improve mobility.

Dr Helen Wright, Career Development Fellow at Versus Arthritis: “We are absolutely delighted that Versus Arthritis and the Freemasons have chosen to fund this PhD scholarship. This research will unlock the secret to switching off unwanted immune cell activation in rheumatoid arthritis, and identify potential new targets for development of drugs to treat those patients with the most debilitating and damaging disease. In addition, this scholarship will train and support an excellent young researcher and provide him with the necessary skills and training for a career in medical research.”

West Lancashire Freemasons visit the University of Liverpool

Derek Parkinson from West Lancashire Freemasons, said: “I’m very pleased that Freemasons have been able to support Michele in her hugely important research. If she and her colleagues succeed in finding a way to stop the pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis, they will transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in this country alone and many millions around the world.”

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