Understanding the causes of musculoskeletal diseases

How the size, shape and structure of bones and joints contribute towards the development of common age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis will be investigated by an international research team thanks to a £1.6m Wellcome award.

Musculoskeletal disorders are a leading cause of disability for older people in the UK, primarily due to low back pain, fractures and diseases such as osteoarthritis. The total cost of joint replacement and hip fracture surgery is approaching £9.5bn annually. The study is intended to reduce the impact of these common musculoskeletal disorders by providing a basis for improved means of disease prediction, prevention and treatment.

Cardiff University reports the study will involve its researchers, and colleagues from the Universities of Bristol, Manchester, Southampton, Aberdeen, and Queensland.

The researchers will use a combination of scans and genetic data from around one hundred thousand forty to sixty nine year old men and women who were recruited to the UK Biobank study. The team will explore how the size, shape and structure of hips, knees and spines contribute to the development of fractures, osteoarthritis and back pain. The findings will then be used to develop novel strategies for identifying those at risk, slowing disease progression and treating those with established disease.

Dr Deborah Mason, from Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, said “We are particularly interested in revealing the mechanical drivers of musculoskeletal diseases and have developed a 3D bone model to identify mechanical responses in bone. This model will be used to reveal whether genetic variants that are associated with the development of fractures, osteoarthritis and back pain have a mechanical basis. Understanding these processes could reveal new risk factors for these important diseases and improve targeting of physical and pharmacologic therapies.”

Professor Jon Tobias, from the University of Bristol, said “The sheer scale of UK Biobank in terms of the number of participants involved and detailed amount of information collected represents a unique resource for the international research community. This study will help us to realise the potential of UK Biobank for understanding the causes of common diseases and reducing their impact on health.”

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