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Research: The key to more effective treatments for arthritis

Nearly four million Australians are living with arthritis and you are more likely to develop arthritis than just about any other chronic condition.  Although arthritis is often considered an older person’s condition, the condition in its many forms affects people of all ages including children, adolescents and young adults. In fact, arthritis is the leading cause of chronic pain and the second most common cause of disability and early retirement due to ill-health in Australia.

Arthritis is not yet curable and materially affects the wellbeing of those living with the condition. Chronic pain and reduced mobility are well known symptoms; less well known are the isolation, depression and mental distress which are so often the end result

The potential impact of research is demonstrated by the dramatic improvements in treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in last 15 years.  Research improved our understanding of the disease process and led to the development of new drugs which mean that remission can now be achieved in over 50% of patients.

Research into juvenile arthritis, is helping to find new risk factors for arthritis in children and will hopefully pave the way towards better treatments that address the root cause of the disease.

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Case study – Research provides hope for kids with arthritis

Around 6000 Australian children live with the debilitating effects of juvenile arthritis. Arthritis SA supports Arthritis Australia’s national research grants program helping to unravel the mystery of what causes this complex condition.

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) is a serious, yet poorly understood disease that causes stiff, painful and swollen joints and may also affect other organs such as the eyes and skin. The impact on children and families living with JIA can be profound, affecting physical and mental health, family and social relationships, body image, self- esteem and educational achievement.

Dr Justine Ellis and her colleague Dr Jane Munro at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have dedicated many years to understanding what causes JIA.

‘Very little is known about the cause of JIA but we do know that genes and the environment play important roles,’ said Dr Ellis. ‘Our research aims to uncover the interactions between genes and environment that lead to JIA.’

Sarah McHarg, whose 14 year old son Patrick was diagnosed with JIA at just six years of age, is excited by the prospects of this research. ‘It would be great to find better ways to prevent, treat and hopefully cure JIA, so other kids and families don’t have to go through what our family has been through,’ she said.

“When Patrick was first diagnosed I was surprised because I thought only old people got arthritis,’ Sarah said. ‘I had no idea what arthritis would mean for Patrick and our family.

‘Before Patrick got arthritis he was happy, content, easy going and very active,’ Sarah said, ‘but arthritis changed him. Constant pain will do that to someone.

‘He became very sick, lost weight and stopped growing. He began limping and wincing with pain, hopping on crutches and then shuffling in a walking frame, although he drew the line at getting a wheelchair. He also changed emotionally. He developed a temper, became very sensitive and lost a lot of confidence. And the emotional and physical impact of Patrick’s condition affected the whole family.

‘I am thankful that Patrick’s condition is better controlled now with medication, but it would be wonderful to find a cure.’

 ‘Our research has already identified new risk factors for JIA and our hope is that our work will pave the way towards better treatments that address the root cause of the disease,’ Dr Ellis said.

Here are film clips of researchers that are supported by Arthritis South Australia.

Arthritis Research SNAPSHOT: Is falls prevention the missing element in osteoarthritis care?

Arthritis Research SNAPSHOT: Using 3D bioprinting for cartilage regeneration