NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

UK-wide consortium aims to transform treatment for children and young people with arthritis and uveitis

Researchers from the Manchester BRC are part of a UK-wide effort to drive the development of new, targeted treatments for children and young people with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and its associated eye-inflammation condition, uveitis.

The CLUSTER consortium, led by University College London, has been awarded £5 million from the UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) with partnership funding from Arthritis Research UK. It brings together world-leading clinical, academic, scientific, statistical and industry expertise in childhood arthritis and its associated eye inflammation uveitis, in partnership with children, young people and their families. Its aim is to improve the lives of children living with these life-changing, complex conditions. Starting in July 2018, CLUSTER will help clinicians to target specific treatments for patients.

JIA affects around one in 1000 children and young people and can cause long-term disability, significantly impacting on those affected well into adult life. Up to 15 per cent of children with JIA have uveitis which may cause visual impairment; children and young people can become certified legally blind. This five year project will systematically analyse data that is captured from national studies and trials of patients with JIA and JIA-uveitis. It will look for gene alterations, immune cell differences, blood proteins and clinical features that are typical of patients who respond to therapies well, and in patients who develop uveitis.

Ultimately, the researchers hope to identify a panel of tests that doctors can use to help make sure treatments are targeted specifically to groups of patients with similar characteristics. The work will also help influence, design and monitor future clinical trials allowing researchers to better understand the condition and test advanced treatments for these debilitating conditions.

Professor Lucy Wedderburn, Professor and Consultant of Paediatric Rheumatology at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and CLUSTER project lead, said: “We are absolutely delighted to have been awarded this prestigious funding. The consortium builds on our collaborative work carried out in previous studies, brings in new partners from academia, industry, and patients, and will take our understanding of these conditions to a new level. It will ultimately help us to control inflammation earlier, reduce disability and lead to long term benefits for children and young people, and the adults they become.”

“We’re proud to be part of this exciting collaboration which promises to make a real difference to the way we care for children and young people with these debilitating conditions.”

Consortium co-lead Professor Wendy Thomson, Manchester BRC Childhood Arthritis Theme Lead and Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at the University of Manchester

Eilean MacDonald, a 17-year-old childhood arthritis patient, was diagnosed with arthritis at 18 months. It took years of trying various medications until she found the right treatment to alleviate her pain.

Eilean said: “This research is so important – it could mean the next generation of kids with arthritis won’t have to go through what I did. They could have the right therapy handpicked for them, they won’t have a constant worry about uveitis, and they could have even one piece of their future that’s predictable with this disease.”

The research will build on the previous MRC supported-CHART study, which brought together data on 5000 patients with JIA and key collaborative partners from across the UK and beyond. The CLUSTER consortium is supported through the MRC’s stratified medicine programme and will be co-funded through a partnership between MRC and Arthritis Research UK. As an integral part of the Consortium’s work, CLUSTER will also receive co-funding from GOSH Children’s Charity and Olivia’s Vision.

The ten CLUSTER co-investigators [Professor Lucy Wedderburn (UCL and GOSH), Professor Wendy Thomson (University of Manchester), Professor Andrew Dick (UCL), Prof. Kimme Hyrich (University of Manchester), Dr Nophar Geifman (University of Manchester), Professor Souyma Raychaudhuri (University of Manchester), Professor Michael Beresford (University of Liverpool and Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust), Professor. A.V. Ramanan (University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust), Dr Chris Wallace (University of Cambridge) and Dr Michael Barnes (Queen Mary’s University of London)] have made renowned research contributions in the fields of stratified medicine for childhood arthritis and uveitis.