Olympic gold-winning rower Katherine Grainger has officially opened a major new research centre for arthritis, co-founded by the University of Birmingham.

The £2.5m Arthritis Research UK Rheumatoid Arthritis Pathogenesis Centre of Excellence (RACE) is a collaboration between the universities of Birmingham, Glasgow and Newcastle, which together have pledged an extra £4m in financial support over five years.

The centre, which opened last Friday (June 6), aims to find out more about the causes of rheumatoid arthritis, a serious, inflammatory, auto-immune condition that affects the joints and the body’s internal organs leading to chronic pain and fatigue.

Researchers at the new three-site RACE, led at the University of Birmingham by Professor Chris Buckley , Arthritis Research UK Professor of Rheumatology, will investigate the underlying causes of the condition, which affects about 400,000 people in the UK. 

The focus will be on the mechanisms of auto-immunity that cause rheumatoid arthritis to start – and why it doesn’t stop – resulting in chronic inflammation in the joints that can’t be suppressed in at least a third of patients, despite modern biological therapy treatment.

Although much of the research will be laboratory-based basic science, the ultimate aim of the centre – which is being launched in Glasgow – is to develop new therapies to provide patients with specific treatment that will work best for them early in the course of their disease, without the need to try an array of different drugs. 

“Understanding what causes rheumatoid arthritis, where it starts and why the inflammation associated with the disease does not go away are really key questions that no one group can address on its own,” says Professor Buckley. “Combining the expertise of basic and clinical scientists across the three universities will not only deliver answers to these questions quicker but help train and encourage future researchers to work in a more collaborative and multidisciplinary way. 

“We’re really excited about the opportunities this new centre brings, and the consequent collaboration between basic scientists, clinicians and industrial partners who all want to make a difference. “There is a massive unmet need for better treatments for rheumatoid arthritis; there is no cure, and many people are still suffering. We now have a fantastic chance of doing something about it.”

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of medical research charity Arthritis Research UK, says:  “As a charity that relies on the support of the public to fund research, bringing together world-recognised research groups in three universities in this unique way, with a multi-pronged attack on this potentially devastating disease, is very much aimed at making a difference to the lives of people with arthritis. We are very excited that this new centre can bring us closer to finding a cure.”

  • The Universities of Birmingham, Glasgow and Newcastle have already established a track record in understanding the underlying causes of rheumatoid arthritis. All three universities are members of Arthritis Research UK Experimental Arthritis Treatment Centres network.
  • At the University of Birmingham, Professor Chris Buckley leads a team that focuses on the role of fibroblasts, a type of tissue resident cell that has been shown to play an important role in initiating and amplifying inflammation during rheumatoid arthritis. It specialises in laboratory based-experiments to shed light on the functions of these cells and how they cause inflammation to persist
  • At the University of Glasgow, Professor Iain McInnes and a colleague specialise in understanding how immune cells move and behave during the course of rheumatoid arthritis. They use cutting-edge imaging techniques to show these cells moving in the joints and blood stream of animal models of arthritis in order to understand how the behaviour and movement of cells is subverted during the disease
  • Researchers at Newcastle University, led by Professor John Isaacs, have focused on the immune system in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and understanding the underlying causes of inflammation and autoimmunity.
  • Arthritis Research UK is the charity dedicated to stopping the devastating impact that arthritis has on people’s lives. Everything that we do is focused on taking the pain away and keeping people active. Our remit covers all conditions that affect the joints, bones and muscles including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain and osteoporosis. We fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis, provide information on how to maintain healthy joints and bones and to live well with arthritis. We also champion the cause, influence policy change and work in partnership with others to achieve our aims. We depend on public support and the generosity of our donors to keep doing this vital work. For more information visit:www.arthritisresearchuk.org.
  • Katherine Grainger CBE is a British rower and a 2012 Olympic gold medallist. She is also a three-time Olympic silver medallist and six-time World Champion. She represents Edinburgh's St Andrew Boat Club in rowing events.

To  speak to Professor Buckley or to a patient with rheumatoid arthritis, please contact Luke Harrison in the University of Birmingham Press Office on +44 (0)121 414 5134. For out of hours enquiries please email the Press Office or call +44 (0)7789921165. 

For the Arthritis Research UK press office, contact Jane Tadman on +44 (0)1246 541107