Close-up of young woman's hand tying her trainers' laces and showing a fitness tracker on her arm
The MISSION-RA study aims to develop a digital health intervention to help people living with rheumatoid arthritis increase their daily physical activity.

Dr Sally Fenton, Lecturer in Lifestyle Behaviour Change at the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, is currently collaborating with patient members of the Birmingham Rheumatology Research Patient Partnership on a study to develop a tool which will increase physical activity for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). 

The MISSION-RA (MovIng to Support Sustained Improvement of Outcomes iN Rheumatoid Arthritis) Study aims to develop a digital health intervention to help people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) increase their daily physical activity. This will be done through designing a mobile health app which links with a popular physical activity tracker, the Fitbit.

The MISSION-RA app will be designed specifically for, and by people living with RA. This will be done in two ways. Firstly, a series of interviews, co-design studies and workshops will be conducted to develop the app. Then, artificial intelligence will be used within the app to provide personalised support for people living with RA, based on symptoms such as pain, fatigue and mobility. 

A priority of the MISSION-RA study is to involve people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in the research process at all stages. This includes developing the research idea, helping to collect data, communicating research findings and helping to generate real impact at the end of the study.

Dr Sally Fenton, Lecturer in Lifestyle Behaviour Change, University of Birmingham

To facilitate the study, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) are partnering the research, helping to ensure people living with RA are at the centre of the research process. Birmingham Rheumatology Research Patient Partnership (R2P2) members, Elspeth Insch and Bob Michell, have also been involved in the study and helped shape the successful funding application to the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR)

Dr Fenton goes on to explain: "NRAS have been instrumental in forming our Patient Research Partner Committee, recruiting 10 people living with RA who vary in terms of their age, sex, ethnicity, years since diagnosis, and severity of their RA. This helps to ensure a diverse range of voices are heard when key decisions about the study are being made."

So far, the Patient Research Partner Committee have supported the study by helping to develop research protocols, reviewing study documents, and identifying potential features for the MISSION-RA app which will be explored during the co-development process. Several members of the committee have also helped to develop a MISSION-RA Study video which outlines the study, and came up with a Patient Information Sheet which has received excellent feedback from patients and health professionals.

Some members of the Patient Research Partner Committee have also recently started to help collect data. The first phase of the MISSION-RA study is to interview several people with RA about their experience of physical activity. These interviews started in July 2023, and are being undertaken by two Committee members, who are acting as co-researchers. The intention is, that by having people with lived experience of RA conducting the interviews, this may stimulate more in-depth conversations in areas that may not have otherwise been explored if interviews were conducted by the University researchers. These co-researchers will also help to analyse and interpret the data and feed it back to the wider Patient Research Partner Committee.

Dr Fenton concludes: "There is still much work to be done on the MISSION-RA study, and the Patient Research Partner Committee will support this work at all stages. This experience so far has been extremely rewarding and fulfilling for me as a researcher. It has given me the opportunity to really involve, enthuse and motivate a group of people living with RA about my research – bringing them along with me on the road to discovery. My goal for this project is to make sure that everybody involved recognises that they have an enormous value to add, and to make sure that their voices, thoughts and experiences are all reflected in the research we are conducting."

The academic lead for R2P2, Dr Marie Falahee adds: “Our patient partners play a critical role in the delivery of high quality patient-centred research. The development of non-drug treatments to improve outcomes for patients with RA is strongly supported by patients, and we’re delighted that our members have made such an important contribution to this study”.

MISSION-RA Study logo
The MISSION-RA study aims to develop a digital health intervention to help people living with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) increase their daily physical activity. Find out more on what the MISSION-RA entails and how you can get involved.