December 2023 research newsletter

Welcome to our December Research Newsletter 2023

Professor Lucy Donaldson - Director of Research and Health Intelligence

Since our last edition, we have welcomed our new Director of Research and Health Intelligence, Lucy Donaldson, to lead on the delivery of our research and organisational strategies.

“It’s a great privilege to write the foreword for the Versus Arthritis December newsletter. Versus Arthritis is close to my heart as they were the first funder willing to support my academic research, and it’s wonderful to now join the charity as the new Director of Research and Health Intelligence. Having been in post for only a matter of weeks, I can take no credit for the research impacts and achievements described in this newsletter, but it is a joy to be able to share and celebrate them with you.

This October, just as I arrived, we celebrated World Arthritis Day across all four UK nations. World Arthritis Day is a growing international event and our contributions to it made a real UK-wide splash. Our Young People and Family Services in Scotland hosted stands in hospitals to raise awareness of arthritis and MSK conditions that affect young people and their families. Across Northern Ireland 13 public buildings were lit up in blue, to shine a light on arthritis and help raise awareness of the condition. A Versus Arthritis / Welsh Government showcase event brought together healthcare innovation and launched the new Welsh MSK Quality Statement for the NHS in Wales, and an event was held in London to highlight some of the amazing research impacts from the Primary Care Centre of Excellence Versus Arthritis at Keele University, and how our strong connections with people with lived experience of arthritis informs the research we support. Why am I am talking about all these events in the Researcher Newsletter? Well, because Versus Arthritis continues to support UK research into these important, often ignored and misunderstood conditions because of the impacts that you, the researchers, produce for people with arthritis.

I hope you enjoy the round-up of news on the many and varied achievements of MSK and arthritis researchers across the UK. I wish you all Happy Holidays, a restful mid-winter break and all best wishes for 2024."

Upcoming Funding Calls and Deadlines

Consortia Funding Call : Opening 2024

As we shared in the Spring of this year, we have been developing our forward model of investing in multidisciplinary research to deliver impacts in areas of unmet need in arthritis research. We are on track to launch a first part of this in Spring 2024.

Building on our 10+yr investment in thirteen Centres of Excellence we are planning £15M+ investment over the next three years to support consortia built across the four nations of the UK. We are pleased to share at this early stage that one of the areas for initial investment will be clinical epidemiology.

Taking on the views of researchers and the challenges being faced, there will also be dedicated funding for hard-to-access infrastructure support.

We'll provide more definition around these opportunities throughout early 2024.

Calls for applications for funding are scheduled to be live in Spring 2024, closing in Autumn 2024, for awards to be made before April 2025.

Bridging fellowships: Open for current eligible fellows

  • Deadline: 24th January 2024
  • Funding decision: June 2024

Ongoing and New Calls for Applications 2024.

As we continue to deliver on our research strategy, next year we will be seeking applications for research projects that have relevance to our Early Detection and Targeted Treatments priority areas. These will be alongside our Career Development Fellowships. In addition, we will be launching new calls for applications to invest in research addressing unmet needs in our Living Well priority area. The first of our award calls for 2024 will launch in the Spring, and others will follow later in the year. We will bring you more updates in future newsletters.

AMS Starter Grants for Clinical Lecturers: Opening January 2024
Pilot scheme for supporting patient and public involvement (PPI) in AMS Starter Grants for Clinical Lecturers applications

The Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) has launched a new pilot scheme that provides pre-application funding to enable applicants to the AMS Starter Grants for Clinical Lecturers scheme to involve the public and patients in the design of their application. Funds will be paid directly to the patient and public contributors. This pilot scheme will enable a wider diversity of public and patient contributors to take part in the development of grant applications, while providing valuable opportunities to forge new connections and develop new skills. The funding is available to those eligible and planning to apply for a Starter Grant in Round 31, which opens in January 2024.

World Arthritis Day

World Arthritis Day was held on the 12th October, and we shared the voices and stories of those living with arthritis to help reveal the true impact that arthritis has.

On the day, we held a lecture at the Leonardo Royal St Pauls Hotel, chaired by BBC Radio 4 presenter Julian Worricker and introduced by our Research and Health Intelligence Director, Professor Lucy Donaldson. We heard stories from people with arthritis about their treatment, navigating their condition and battling misconceptions, with the keynote presentation given by Professor Danielle Van Der Windt, who directs our Primary Care Centre.

As well as sharing information on the statistics of arthritis and its associated co-morbidities, Professor Van Der Windt explained the importance of measuring the impact arthritis has on the lives of patients. From previous studies such as STarT Back, which aimed to take a personalised approach to treatment, we learned that there must be accurate risk prediction, effective interventions, and improved delivery. Together, these priorities will help people with arthritis live better lives, with dedicated support tools and personalised pathways. This presentation at World Arthritis Day highlighted the need to implement this across all research, from discovery to translation, for Better Lives Today, Better Lives Tomorrow.

Latest developments and activities

The Annual Norfolk Arthritis Register Scientific Meeting

In November, Researchers from the University of East Anglia, along with allied health professionals, research partners and Versus Arthritis staff got together and celebrated the great research being carried out using the Norfolk Arthritis Register (NOAR) at their Annual Norfolk Arthritis Register scientific meeting. Presentations utilising the NOAR cohort to investigate immersive innovations for managing chronic pain, dietary signatures in arthritis, the relationship between arthritis and dementia, and data linkage within social care were among the great research projects showcased. The presentations were given by a mix of researchers, rheumatologists, and research partners. Overall, it was great to hear how the NOAR cohort is still at the centre of important research striving to improve the lives of people living with arthritis.

Research Involvement Workshops on PPIE Support

The Research Involvement team recently ran a series of workshops to hear what our researchers need in terms of PPIE support. We had representation from ECRs to research heads of our Versus Arthritis Centres of Excellence. Thank you to all those involved. Researchers from diverse disciplines contributed, including those from basic, lab-based discovery science to health and clinical researchers. Our Research Partners also contributed their thoughts. The main themes included funding, training, communication, recruitment (including reaching diverse and underserved communities), support, and an understanding of different research environments. We are now taking what we have learned to our Expert Committees to gather their suggestions and advice on what our offer to researchers should be, and how we can implement it. We look forward to sharing our findings in the new year.

Research Activities

Covid Shielding Voices Report

This September, as the next stage of the Covid Inquiry opened, we and the University of Manchester published our Covid Shielding Voices report which highlights the vast personal, professional, and societal impact that shielding from COVID-19 had on people's lives.

The report is co-produced with people with autoimmune inflammatory conditions and captures the stories of people from across the UK who shielded during the pandemic, highlighting their full range of experiences. This includes how they were identified as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable, how this was communicated, right through to the impact on individuals’ daily lives. The findings that the report outlines have informed the development of a set of recommendations about how to support the clinically vulnerable now and in future. You can read the report and a helpful blog written by our press team below.

Celebrating the Ending of The ASCOT Trial

Since 2010, Versus Arthritis have supported the Autologous Stem Cells, Chondrocytes Or the Two? (ASCOT) trial investigating cell therapy to heal cartilage defects in order to reduce the progression of osteoarthritis, with over £500K of funding. On the 1st December, Researchers at the ASCOT trial, based in The Robert Jones And Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Keele University, held an event in celebration of their final cell therapy surgery for participants and involved stakeholders. The event included presentations from associated researchers, covering an array of topics on trial development and delivery, outcome measures (with participant engagement and feedback) and further scientific investigations. We look forward to the potential impact this study will have for people with osteoarthritis.

New Psoriatic Arthritis Prevalence and Incidence Rates from the University of Manchester

This November, a Versus Arthritis funded study from the Centre of Epidemiology, University of Manchester, published their research into the prevalence and incidence of psoriatic arthritis (PsA) in the UK. They used Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) data to identify both definite and probable cases of PsA over 30 years between January 1, 1991, and December 31, 2020. They found that the prevalence of recorded psoriatic arthritis (PsA) has risen almost 12-fold from 0.03 to 0.37 in the last three decades in the UK, while its incidence has nearly doubled over the same timeframe. Given the extended time window under study, these increases may represent improvements in identifying and diagnosis PsA, including the advent of specialist clinics, screening tools and improved coding by GPs.

REmote Monitoring of Rheumatoid Arthritis (REMORA) video

This quarter, the University of Manchester in collaboration with Versus Arthritis created a video showcasing the work of the Remote Monitoring of Rheumatoid Arthritis (REMORA) studies.

REMORA was a successful pilot study, led by the University of Manchester and funded by Versus Arthritis, that designed, implemented, and evaluated an app for people with rheumatoid arthritis to track their daily symptoms. Building from the success of this study, the NIHR and Versus Arthritis further invested in a follow-on study called REMORA2. This study aims to demonstrate improvements in clinical outcomes for people living with rheumatoid arthritis using the app, evaluate its cost-effectiveness and learn how similar systems can be successfully rolled out in the NHS. The REMORA app is now closer to being translated into clinical practice and most importantly into the hands of people with rheumatoid arthritis, to help them live well.

Dates for the diary

Versus Arthritis Annual Fellows Meeting:

  • 20-21 March 2024
  • Burleigh Court, Loughborough

Academy of Medical Sciences Clinical Academics in Training Annual Conference (CATAC):

  • 17 April 2024
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • Applications for event competitions deadline: 12.00 noon Monday 18 December 2023.
  • Conference registration open: January 2024

2024 British Society for Rheumatology Annual Conference:

  • 24-26 April 2024
  • We will be attending the BSR annual conference in Liverpool and would love to see some friendly faces. Please make it known to us through your Versus Arthritis contacts, or through, if you have submitted an abstract/poster, or if you plan on attending the event.

We’d love to hear from you

If you have any feedback regarding our newsletter, or have any questions please get in touch.