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Volunteers needed to push knee arthritis campaign

A REVOLUTIONARY way of preventing the wear and tear which disables arthritis sufferers is being pioneered in Scotland.

HEALTH STUDY: Professor Martijn Steultjens, musculoskeletal health expert and researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University. Picture: Mark Mainz
HEALTH STUDY: Professor Martijn Steultjens, musculoskeletal health expert and researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University. Picture: Mark Mainz

Using technology similar to Hollywood animation films, researchers in Glasgow intend to examine the way patients' limbs move when they walk - developing a new approach to diagnosing and treating osteo­arthritis of the knee.

The condition affects around 500,000 people in Scotland, ­including one in five over the age of 50, and can force people to retire early because it causes pain and disability.

Musculoskeletal experts at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) hope analysing the way patients walk will give them new insight into the roots of the condition.

Remedies tailored to each ­individual - including knee braces which correct the way a patient steps - will ultimately be tested to see if they can help reduce symptoms.

Professor Martijn Steultjens, musculoskeletal expert and project leader, said as people walk more than the entire body's weight goes through the knee. He added: "We think part of the reason people get arthritis is those loads are just too much for the knee to take.

"There are parts of the knee which are extremely fit for purpose to carry the huge load, but what we see in arthritis patients are sadly the weaker parts are asked to carry that load. We think it is one of the major causes of arthritis."

The university is looking to recruit 100 to 150 sufferers and monitor the way they move during the typical activities of daily life, such as standing up and climbing stairs.

Reflective markers will be attached to their skin to help capture the way their limbs shift. Cameras pick up the markers and the researchers can use mathematical modelling to find out how their body is moving. The technology is comparable to that employed in animation films when actors perform in front of a blue screen.

Professor Steultjens said: "Using computer modelling we can think for each individual patient where exactly these forces go through the knee and what the ideal way would be of restoring a healthy load on the knee. That should reduce pain and improve comfort and make it easier for them to walk, allowing them to do the things they want to do."

The project forms part of one of the largest pan-European investigations into osteoarthritis of the knee, known as Kneemo, which is being launched tomorrow.

The team at GCU are leading the entire £4.2m European-funded effort, which will bring seven universities and three private companies together to look at how knee osteoarthritis is diagnosed and treated over four years.

Currently the disease is treated with pain or anti-inflammatory drugs and exercise therapy, with knee-replacement surgery as the final option. However, the treatments do not work for everyone and it is hoped remedies which address each individual's problem will be more successful at preventing pain and mobility problems.

Angela Donaldson, Scotland director for charity Arthritis Care, said: "We very much welcome the introduction of this study and we would like to congratulate Professor Steultjens on the amount of investment he and his team have generated into researching osteoarthritis of the knee.

"As Scotland's biggest support charity for people with arthritis, we see the wide-ranging negative impacts osteoarthritis can have on people with the condition, and are very pleased to see such a substantial level of funding both into the condition and through a Scottish institution."

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said: "Knee osteoarthritis is one of the most important health problems affecting function in an ageing population.

"The novel approach from this consortium provides some unique opportunities to explore the potential to prevent this important condition affecting musculoskeletal health."

Patients interested in ­volunteering for the study can contact the university via email address: rehabilitationresearch@gcu.ac.uk.

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