Wednesday 25 May 2022

The Versus Arthritis Research Fellows' Conference - a glimpse into the future of arthritis treatment

The annual Versus Arthritis Fellows' Conference took place in Birmingham earlier this month (11-12 May). Much to the delight of those attending, it was the first in-person Fellows' Conference for two years (the event was held virtually last year due to Covid-19). It was also the first time the charity had invited Research Partners (RPs).

The conference gives fellows the opportunity to share their research and network with their community. The decision to invite RPs (research volunteers with MSK conditions) follows the charity's stated pledge to put people with lived experience at the very heart of research. 
Seven RPs involved in fellowship funding decisions attended, me included. We sat alongside scientists, clinicians and charity staff. To support the new approach to broader networking, fellows were asked to ensure their presentations could be understood by a lay audience.
The event had a packed programme of presentations covering a wide variety of conditions, a complex mix of problems, and an array of inspired solutions. There were also micro presentations from current PhD students, keynote speeches from leaders in industry and academia, as well as breakout sessions. 

It was during the breakout sessions that networking between researchers and RPs flourished. Here we were split into mixed groups and encouraged to discuss topics such as how to recruit patients for research trials. 
Some conference presentations were more relatable than others, owing to the nature of my own condition, osteoarthritis. I was particularly excited by the sessions on regenerative medicine for treating OA.
In one session Andrew Hotchen, Clinical Research Fellow, University of Cambridge, said to prevent and delay the need for joint replacement, new treatments for early-stage osteoarthritis are needed. His laboratory has developed a technique to understand how the immune system of a mouse reacts to damaged cartilage. It is hoped this work will lead to treatments that encourage the immune system of the human body to rebuild damaged cartilage.

Versus Arthritis Research Team
Away from osteoarthritis, RP Lynn Laidlaw and Dr Charlotte Sharp's presentation on the impact of shielding during Covid on people with MSK conditions was especially moving. In COVID Voices, people reported feelings of frustration, anger, fear, vulnerability, loneliness and more. It is the first patient-led research to be funded by Versus Arthritis. 
But regardless of individual lived experience, area of study, or personal interest, every presentation delivered engaging and illuminating insight – an exciting glimpse in to the future of MSK research and treatments. 
For more information on the research Versus Arthritis funds, check out their website here. 
Lead pic: Anastasia Nelen
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