A greater number of patients being involved in research will enable researchers to start differentiating disease subtypes and move closer to personalised medicine, according to Prof. Ursula Fearon at the Arthritis Ireland annual lecture last week.

Delivering her address, “Frontiers in Arthritis Research”, at the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, she said: “With translational research everything we do in the lab has to relate back to the patient. This is why we need patients to be involved in research.”

Prof. Fearon outlined current research into whether biomarkers can inform clinical decisions. Anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPAs) are present in some 70 per cent of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. These patients have a lot more B cells and T cells, driving disease in their joints, which is associated with increased disease activity

Over the last three years, 50 patients with arthralgia have been recruited for a study at TBSI. These were experiencing aches and pains, were referred to a rheumatologist; but displayed no clinical signs of inflammatory arthritis in their joints.

Delegates at the annual lecture 2019

Delegates at the annual lecture 2019

Systems biology analysis revealed that in these patients there seemed to be a stepwise progression up to a pro-inflammatory response and some of the genes were quite similar to the RA patients.

“This gives a lot of information that maybe we can start to treat people very early. This prevents joint damage and subsequent disability,” said Prof. Fearon.

Highlighting the work of the Arthritis Research Coalition, she encouraged patients to get involved in research. She asked them to be mindful that for “the research we’re trying to do, we need you to help us,” she said. “This will enable us to better understand disease and predict response, predict remission and new therapeutic targets.”

Prof. Fearon was appointed Arthritis Ireland Professor of Molecular Rheumatology, School of Medicine, Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, Trinity College Dublin in December 2016. Her research is a bench-to-beside translational approach, focusing on understanding the underlying mechanisms that drive disease pathogenesis

Her team specifically examine components of joint inflammation at a cellular and molecular level to dissect the signalling and gene pathways that are disturbed in patients who have inflammatory arthritis and rheumatic diseases. She has developed several novel models for the study of innovative medicines in the field of rheumatology and immunology and has established strong collaborative research networks across Europe, USA and Singapore, and is active member of the Arthritis Research Coalition (ARC), Ireland.

She has been awarded significant research funding from Arthritis-Ireland, Health Research Board, Science Foundation Ireland, IRCSET, European-ASPIRE, JU Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) and Maeve Binchy Funding for Arthritis Research, in addition to industry collaborative partnerships. She has an International reputation, has published extensively in high impact peer-reviewed journals, and her research has been awarded several national/International awards.