Boston University Tackles Arthritis Research Across Disciplines

in News Feed, Winter 2014 Newsletter
February 26th, 2014

ENACT Center Director Julie Keysor as featured in Boston University's 2013 Annual Report

ENACT Center Director Julie Keysor as featured in Boston University’s 2013 Annual Report

Many myths exist regarding arthritis. Perhaps the most common is that arthritis is not a serious public health issue. This myth is easily disputed by the following facts derived from the Arthritis Foundation:

  • Arthritis is a leading cause of disability in the United States and the leading cause of mobility limitation

  • Arthritis is actually a more frequent cause of activity limitations than heart disease, cancer or diabetes

  • By 2030, an estimated 67 million Americans will have arthritis, unless the trend is reversed

Although these findings seem daunting, increased awareness of arthritis as a serious health threat has led to an increase in research efforts to better understand and treat arthritis and other rheumatic conditions that include diseases, such as Lupus, Scleroderma, and Fibromyalgia. Because these conditions can affect all aspects of a person’s life, a comprehensive approach to research projects and training activities is needed.

Boston University’s clinical arthritis research program is university-wide and includes the BU School of Medicine (BUSM) Department of Clinical Epidemiology Research and Training, BUSM Scleroderma Research Center, and Center for Enhancing Activity and Participation among Persons with Arthritis (ENACT) at the BU College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.  These groups are engaged in ongoing research projects to identity factors that may be causes of arthritis and rheumatic diseases as well as factors that prevent disease progression and promote active living.

Founded by Director Dr. Julie Keysor in 2010, the ENACT Center collaborates with the Arthritis Foundation’s New England Chapter and students and researchers from Boston University’s School of Medicine, School of Public Health, and School of Communications to improve the lives of individuals with arthritis through various means, such as engaging in investigative research, training the next generation of clinical researchers, and disseminating evidence-based information to consumers in Greater Boston.

Supported by the National Institutes of Health, the BUSM Clinical Epidemiology Research and Training Unit is led by Director David Felson, MD, MPH, and Assistant Director Tuhina Neogi, MD, PhD, FRCPC. Established in 2001, the department is an internationally recognized center in research and training, designed to advance basic, clinical, and epidemiological research in rheumatology and to translate clinical findings into new therapeutic strategies.  A focus of this group’s research is osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis.  Faculty also have expertise in general rheumatology.

Supported by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and Scleroderma Foundation, Boston University School of Medicine’s Scleroderma Program is one of the world’s leading centers of scleroderma treatment and research. For those who aren’t quite familiar with the illness, “Scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, is a chronic connective tissue disease generally classified as one of the autoimmune rheumatic diseases. The word “scleroderma” comes from two Greek words: “sclero” meaning hard, and “derma” meaning skin. Hardening of the skin is one of the most visible manifestations of the disease. However, the scarring process that affects the skin also affects internal organs, leading to severe life-threatening complications in the lungs, intestines and kidneys.

Dr. Lafyatis works closely with the BUMC Rheumatology Section Chief, Dr. Robert Simms; the Arthritis Center Director, Dr. Maria Trojanowska; and a research team consisting of 30 investigators, including basic scientists, specialists, and trainees of various fields. Dr. Lafyatis said uncovering the cure for the condition will require much more effort. “I don’t see a cure coming anytime soon,” he said. “But we feel several of the medications we are currently studying provide great hope for finding better treatment for this very difficult illness.”

Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are becoming more and more widespread, but thanks to BU researchers, the mysteries of the illness are beginning to unravel.  An increasing number of affected people can be treated, learn how to improve their lives, and discover that, despite the illness, there are still ways to experience life as they wish.


Story by Ammarah Usmani

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