NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

Four musculoskeletal projects awarded funding to ‘pump-prime’ research

Four research projects within our musculoskeletal theme have been awarded a share of £20,000 to ‘pump-prime’ their work.

Each of our four research programmes within the theme – adult arthritis, childhood arthritis, connective tissue diseases and degenerative joint diseases – have been awarded £5,000 to fund initiatives aligned to our precision medicine strategy.

All the projects demonstrate one or more of the ‘four Ps’ of precision medicine – prediction, prevention, personalisation and participation – and links to the theme’s objectives.

Professor Anne Barton

Professor Anne Barton, who leads our musculoskeletal theme, said: “It’s fantastic that we are able to share this funding across all four of our musculoskeletal research programmes, demonstrating the breadth of our research, our agility to fund new work during the lifetime of our BRC and our capacity-building as we look ahead to the future.

“We received lots of excellent submissions and it was tough to narrow down to just four winners, but we gave particular priority to ‘rising stars’, as our junior researchers are the future of our BRC.

We also chose projects demonstrating cross-theme collaboration, as our three ‘cross-cutting’ research themes – biomarker platforms, informatics and data sciences and our Rapid Translational Incubator – underpin everything we do as a BRC and engender our core purpose: to connect world-leading researchers to drive health improvements and lasting change for all.

“Congratulations to all our musculoskeletal pump-prime awardees, I look forward to seeing the progress this funding stimulates.”

The projects

Connective tissue diseases

Funding provided to this project, led by Dr Tracy Briggs, will stimulate research to identify a potentially new genetic cause of lupus. In a clear example of the precision medicine approach, the team will continue to work with three generations of the same family – who all have an apparent severe form of familial lupus – and use the additional funding to carry out whole genome sequencing and further studies of any potential new genes found.

The intended outcome is to gather a sufficient amount of data to secure funding to investigate this further and ultimately to publish a paper on the findings. Further work will involve interrogation for the presence of the potential new gene in existing lupus patients – both children and adults – to determine if the gene is of relevance in a cohort of patients with more common, complex forms of the disease.

Degenerative disc diseases

Funding awarded to this project, led by Dr Hamish Gilbert, will help fund a detailed proteomic analysis of human disc cells, enabling multiple biomarkers to be identified. The degeneration of intervertebral discs (IVDs) is closely associated with lower back pain, a debilitating musculoskeletal disorder which is responsible for large-scale and increasing disability within the western world, demonstrating a clear rationale for carrying out the research.

This project demonstrates a clear cross-cutting element, as proteomic research is a core element of our biomarker theme, which knits all seven of our BRC research themes together. Its expected outcome is to produce a ‘proteomic signature’ – i.e. a biomarker – for cells taken from IVD tissue which have varying grades of degeneration. This signature would subsequently be correlated with MRI scans and signs of IVD degeneration. This preliminary data will be used for a larger grant and fellowship applications to extend the stratification and validation across a larger cohort of patients.

The pump-prime allocation will specifically fund cell extraction and preparation for mass spectrum analysis in a cohort of consenting patients.

Adult arthritis

Funding awarded to this project, led by Dr Nisha Nair and Dr Darren Plant, will help to identify biomarkers in people with rheumatoid arthritis, enabling treatments to be targeted to the right patients.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 400,000 adults in the UK, causing pain, swelling and damage in the joints. The treatment of the condition has been revolutionised in recent years by tumour necrosis factor inhibitors – drugs that block ‘synovitis’ – which is an inflammation of the membrane lining the joints. Yet, only 30 per cent patients respond well to therapy, demonstrating a clear patient need for precision medicine approach.

The pump-prime allocation will specifically fund the measurement of protein quantities in serum samples taken from a cohort of consenting rheumatoid arthritis patients, using state-of-the-art proteomics platforms within the Stoller Biomarker Discovery Centre. The Stoller facilities are located at CityLabs, on Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust’s Oxford Road site.

Childhood arthritis

Funding awarded to this project, led by Dr Janet McDonagh, will help to explore the feasibility of electronic data collection from patients with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), who are receiving treatment at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital (RMCH).

Wide variation in how clinical data is collected at different hospitals presents a major barrier to improving quality of care and access to clinical research in JIA. As such, the UK paediatric rheumatology community has developed a standardised core dataset, termed CAPTURE-JIA. The ambition is to embed collection of the CAPTURE-JIA dataset into routine clinical practice, enabling patients, clinicians and NHS providers to understand and improve quality of care, and potentially increase patient participation in research.

The pump-prime allocation will specifically fund software licensing and consultancy fees, ultimately enabling long-term system integration at RMCH with other centres, supporting our informatics and data sciences theme.