Birmingham Early Arthritis Cohort

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The Birmingham Early Arthritis Cohort (BEACON) has been studying patients who develop new arthritis in Birmingham since 2000.

Led by Professor Andrew Filer, our research aims to discover and improve the tests we use to make diagnoses and to predict the course of arthritis from the earliest stages of symptoms. Our work includes the study of autoantibodies, cytokines, ultrasound imaging, metabolomics and tissue taken directly from the joint using ultrasound imaging guidance.

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Key researchers

Professor Andrew Filer

Andrew Filer

Principal Investigator

Institute of Inflammation and Ageing

Professor in Translational and Experimental Rheumatology

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Aims of the project

The early treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) leads to significantly improved clinical outcomes. However not all patients who see their doctor with a new onset of arthritis go on to develop RA; in some cases the patient’s arthritis resolves spontaneously and in other cases they develop another form of persistent arthritis. It is thus important to be able to predict from the start which patients with early arthritis will develop RA to allow targeted early treatment. 

Furthermore, a wide range of medications are available for the treatment of RA and there are considerable differences in responses to treatment amongst patients. The ability to predict treatment response is thus of considerable clinical importance. 

The BEACON cohort is designed to address these questions by carefully tracking the progress of patients with new onset arthritis over time, and linking their progress to the results of scientific analyses of the samples they donate.

Meet the team

Research Team 

Staff from the University of Birmingham


Other team members and organisations


Jackie Cobb

CRF Nurse

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust


Marti Batki

Clinical Trials Practitioner

Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust

Marti Batki



Ultrasound guided synovial biopsy

Instead of using surgical techniques such as arthroscopy, we use ultrasound, a completely safe method of seeing inside the joints, to allow us to take tiny, pinhead sized samples from the inner lining of the joint.

Using new research technologies, ultrasound guided biopsy of tissue from the joint has the potential to provide new insights into the mechanisms underlying the development of arthritis and to help us target the right treatment to the right patient. 

Ultrasound guided biopsy: A patient’s view

The ability to take tiny samples out of the joint using ultrasound to guide the procedure is a game-changer for arthritis. We are starting to find markers of different types of arthritis in the tissues during early disease, and we are running studies to show that using tissue from joints can help decide the correct therapy for your arthritis, just as biopsies are used to decide treatment in other conditions.

As with any procedure it’s a little uncomfortable when we use anaesthetic to numb the skin and tissues, but overall levels of discomfort are low and more than 85% of patients are happy to have repeat biopsies if we ask them.

Watch our video of a patient describing her ultrasound guided biopsy experience

Ultrasound guided biopsy: Training videos for clinical staff

The videos below are provided for training purposes only, and are designed to be viewed by clinically trained professionals only, such as doctors and nurses.

Video 1: Portal and forceps ultrasound guided biopsy

Video 2: Fixed length portal with easier insertion

Video 3: Locating the inner surface of the wrist synovium


Telephone: +44 (0) 121 371 3209

Twitter: @Beacon-uob