Background and objectives

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Poor musculoskeletal health has a significant impact upon quality of life, work productivity and health costs, and around 10 million working days were lost through musculoskeletal conditions in 2006/7, with an annual cost to the NHS related to musculoskeletal decline at £5.7 billion. The two greatest factors in the development of musculoskeletal pathology are age and obesity.

The MRC Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research integrates the work of world class researchers, clinicians and health professionals at the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham to focus upon understanding the age-related loss of musculoskeletal function and the role played by obesity in this process. A cross-cutting theme integrating the basic research is consideration of inflammatory and hormonal environments, which are key mediators of the effects of ageing and obesity and crucially represent tractable targets for modification via pharmacological or lifestyle interventions.

We are developing and evaluating physical activity and diet-based interventions aimed at improving musculoskeletal function and tailored to older adults. Such interventions are notoriously difficult to implement, but our Centre is unique in its ability to apply world leading expertise in lifestyle-oriented motivational psychology to develop programmes achieving good adherence and uptake in different settings.

Centre objectives for the first 5 years are to:

  • Increase understanding of molecular and cellular processes underlying musculoskeletal ageing and their systems-level effects; 
  • Establish a national technology platform for research and training in stable isotope tracer methods to study metabolism in musculoskeletal tissues in humans; 
  • Develop pharmacological and lifestyle interventions to attenuate age-related musculoskeletal decline in humans; 
  • Develop protocols to achieve adherence to lifestyle interventions in humans; 
  • Increase research and training capacity in Birmingham and Nottingham in musculoskeletal ageing through a joint, dedicated PhD programme for clinicians and non-clinicians and an MSc in Musculoskeletal Health.