Untitled Page

A Collective Vision of Arthritis Research

Nizar Mohamed
Nizar Mohamed

Nizar Mohamed, Arthritis Program Director and Head of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery at UHN, and his colleagues have put together a vision which is bringing them together in a cohesive research and fund-raising effort. The Orthopaedic surgeons at Toronto Western Hospital came to a critical decision in 2010. They decided to lead the charge in offering arthritis patients more than pain management and joint replacement. Their vision is to create a world-leading centre for research and treatment of arthritis. Arthritis research lags behind other diseases, yet it affects an immense number of people worldwide and has a staggering effect of their quality of life and productivity. The surgeons’ goal is to find a way to diagnose arthritis early, develop novel treatments that halt the progress of arthritis, and create personalized treatment plans to prevent the onset of the disease.

In collaboration with the Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation, they launched the Campaign to Cure Arthritis in 2011. The $35M campaign will fund the research and needed infrastructure. To show their commitment to their cause, they decided to put their own skin in the game and made a ground breaking personal gift – a collective gift of $1.25M. The Surgeons’ commitment has, in two short years, inspired hundreds of their grateful patients to join them in their quest to make joint replacements obsolete. At this time, $31.3M has been raised towards the $35M goal. “This shows the power of a collective vision and the power of investing your own funds in research, a very persuasive factor”.

The surgeons created a strategic business plan that has now been validated by an international Academic Advisory Board (AAB). The programme is multidisciplinary academic/business model hybrid that involves strong collaborations with key researchers both within and outside of UHN. Significant funding from private donors has enabled more rapid implementation of research studies compared to the time frame anticipated through traditional resources such as peer reviewed government and NGO funding.

A key initiative was the establishment of an Academic Advisory Board comprising surgeons and researchers with international stature. The members are Robin Poole, Professor Emeritus at McGill University, Montreal; Stefan Lohmander, Senior Professor at the Department of Orthopedics at Lund University, Sweden and Editorin- Chief of the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage; Eng Lee, Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Program Leader of the NUS Tissue Engineering Program (NUSTEP) in Singapore; Frank Berry, Professor of Cellular Therapy at the National University of Ireland, Galway and Director of the University’s National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science (NCBES); and Jeff Katz, Professor of Medicine and Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at HSPH. The AAB meets annually in person and at their first meeting in 2012, they reviewed the proposed research programme presented by the Divisional surgeons. They supported three major priorities for research: These were 1. to continue with the development of the informatics platform being spearheaded by Christian Veillette and focused on Clinical and Health outcomes. This encompasses many research studies including the Longitudinal Evaluation of Arthritis Patients (LEAP); 2) the project spearheaded by Rajiv Gandhi involving the collection of tissue from various parts of the joint during total joint replacement surgery and investigation of the connection between Osteoarthritis and the Metabolic Syndrome. Rajiv’s study of fat pad leptins and adipo-leptin and their correlation with pain and disability has been reported in an earlier issue of the Spotlight http://www.surgicalspotlight.ca/Article.aspx?ver=Spring-Summer_2012&f=OsteoarthritisMetabolic); 3) the ability of stem cells to provide symptomatic relief and other innovative applications. Collaborations in this area include local UHN research groups as well as with a company in Korea. It is anticipated that clinical trials will be initiated within 2 years.

The first Arthritis Industry Forum was held in May, including representatives from pharma, informatics, imaging, new technology and medical device companies. The Forum showcased research being conducted within the Division as well as presentations by the industry attendees, seeking areas of mutual interest and opportunities for sustainability.

The Division continues to expand with the recent addition of two surgeons, one with a specialty in sports medicine and the other focusing on ankle and lower extremity surgery. “Since the basic research component of the programme is critical, we are currently conducting searches for three scientists. One will work with TECHNA on innovative imaging techniques. One will be a cartilage biologist with an interest in metabolic syndrome and its relation to osteoarthritis, and the third will focus on the translational research on stem cells in osteoarthritis.


Skip Navigation Links