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A Collective Vision of Arthritis Research

Nizar Mohamed
Nizar Mohamed

UHN Orthopaedic Division Head Nizar Mohamed and his colleagues have put together a vision that brings them together in a cohesive research and fundraising effort. These Orthopaedic surgeons at Toronto Western Hospital came to a critical decision in 2010. They resolved to offer 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 on their quality of life and productivity. Our 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. The $35M campaign will fund the research and needed infrastructure. To show their commitment to their cause, the surgeons decided to put their own skin in the game by making a ground breaking personal gift – a collective $1.25M. The surgeons’ commitment has, in two short years, inspired hundreds of their grateful patients to join in their quest to make joint replacements obsolete. At this time, $31.3M has been raised toward 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 a multidisciplinary academic/business 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 than traditional resources such as government and NGO funding. The establishment of the AAB, comprising surgeons and researchers with international stature, was a key initiative. The members are: Robin Poole, Professor Emeritus at McGill University; Stefan Lohmander, Professor in the Department of Orthopedics at Lund University in Sweden and Editorin- Chief of the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage; Eng Lee, Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Program Leader of the Tissue Engineering Program at National University in Singapore; Frank Berry, Professor of Cellular Therapy at the National University of Ireland in Galway and Director of the University’s National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science ; and Jeff Katz, Professor of Medicine and Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health.

The AAB meets annually in person. At their first meeting in 2012, they reviewed the proposed research programme presented by the Divisional surgeons. They supported three major priorities for research: 1. Continue with the development of the informatics platform spearheaded by Christian Veillette and focused on clinical and health outcomes. This encompasses many research studies, including the Longitudinal Evaluation of Arthritis Patients. 2. 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, spearheaded by Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv is studying fat pad leptins and adipo-leptin and their correlation with pain and disability, as reported earlier in the Spotlight (see article). 3. The study of stem cells for symptomatic relief and in other innovative applications. Collaborations in this area include local UHN research groups as well as a company in Korea. Clinical trials are anticipated within 2 years.

The first Arthritis Industry Forum was held in May, including representatives from informatics, imaging, new technology, pharma, and medical device companies. The Forum showcased research being conducted within the Division and presentations by 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 the metabolic syndrome and its relation to osteoarthritis, and the third will focus on translational research on stem cells in osteoarthritis.” The expansion of the surgical and clinical aspects in tandem with the strengthening of basic research positions the division well for achieving its goals of early diagnosis and development of novel treatments that halt the progress of arthritis.

MM and Nizar Mohamed

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