Rheumatology Research Group

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Group leader: Professor Chris Buckley


The overarching objective of our Group is to improve clinical outcomes for those with, and at risk of developing, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Sjogren’s syndrome (SS) and systemic lupus  erythematosus(SLE) by developing diagnostic tests, drugs and cell based therapies to predict, prevent and reverse disease pathology. A unique feature of our translational research is that we have pioneered a first in class, “pathway driven” approach to the biology of inflammatory arthritis. A particular strength of research in Birmingham is our therapeutic targeting of the tissue microenvironment and our skills in comparing and contrasting the biological processes underpinning the development, maintenance and resolution of inflammation. This process driven approach has allowed us to develop a unique approach to inflammation research in which shared biological mechanisms are compared across a number of traditionally independent organ based medical disciplines to develop biologically meaningful and therapeutically tractable process-driven links to other disease areas in Inflammation biology. Furthermore, it breaks down traditional bench to bedside, bedside to bedside and primary care-secondary care silos that have prevented a truly integrated, multidisciplinary, patient centred approach to treating chronic inflammation.

Our Research Group

The Rheumatology Reseach Group (RRG) is based in the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing (IIA) in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences. The Institute has major research themes in Inflammation, Ageing, Trauma, Regeneration and Repair. These research themes are linked to the clinical disciplines of Clinical Immunology, Neurology, Nephrology, Rheumatology, Ophthalmology, Gastroenterology and Respiratory Medicine. Academic Rheumatology in Birmingham is therefore ideally placed to act as a focus for translational clinical research in inflammation, where a clear understanding of how immune cells behave in inflamed microenvironments is likely to be of critical importance for future experimental medicine studies.

The RRG has focused on collaborative research along lines of common interest. Such collaborations include those with basic scientists, those running clinical studies and researchers using qualitative methods in a community setting. This has provided a clear focus on important biological questions that cross traditional disciplines and often require long-term commitment and investmentThe key objective of our research is to improve clinical outcomes for those with, and at risk of developing, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome and SLE. Our research is underpinned by well characterised cohorts of patients. Our multidisciplinary team of academic and clinical rheumatologists, general practitioners, biological and social scientists, allied health professionals and patient representatives works in an integrated way to develop and deliver our research objectives. Our major focus is on inflammatory arthritis and in particular the pathobiology and comorbidity associated with rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogrens syndrome  as well as the epidemiology, clinical management and outcome of SLE. A particular strength of research in Birmingham is exploring the role of the tissue microenvironment in shaping immune and inflammatory responses.

We run a substantial research group comprising over 50 research scientists, clinicians and allied health profesionals. Our basic science research focuses on why inflammation persists. Our model has become an internationally accepted paradigm; a concept we have termed “process-driven pathway-focussed pathology”. Our studies have proved critically important in driving the clinical models that we investigate. While this has historically been focussed on established rheumatoid arthritis, vasculitis and SLE, we have developed  research programmes in very early rheumatoid arthritis, the pathology of Sjogren’s syndrome and the relationship between periodontal disease and inflammatory arthritis. This work also provides an axis for collaborative interaction between basic scientists in the adjacent Institute of Biomedical Research in Birmingham as well as clinical collagues including those in primary care.

We are one of nine Centres in the NIHR TRP in Joint and Inflammatory Disease and one of six ARUK Experimental Arthritis Treatment Centres. We are also members of the MRC-ABPI initiative (RA-MAP), the MRC Stratified Medicine consortium (MATURA) as well as the recently funded ARUK microbiome project in collaboration with colleagues in Oxford and UCL London. We are one of two UK centres selected to take part in the NIH funded Accelerating  Medicines Partnership (AMP) based on our ability to perform and evaluate synovial and salivary gland biopsy  All of this places us in an ideal position to translate our laboratory findings into clinically relevant treatments. We are also one of three Universities that form the ARUK Centre of Excellence in the Pathogenesis of RA. We coordinate an EU funded FP7 programme (Towards Early Arthritis Management) that aims to identify biomarkers and disease mechanisms operating during the phases of disease leading up to development of RA and to translate these findings into improved and user acceptable diagnostic kits and strategies for benefit of the EU economy (http://www.team-arthritis.eu/).

Current Projects

Using rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome and SLE as exemplars our aim is to:

  1. To predict the development disease using new diagnostic tests including serology & metabolomics
  2. To prevent the progression of disease using novel cell based and microbiome based therapies
  3. To identify and target mechanisms driving the progression of disease and harness the therapeutic potential of mechanisms involved in regulating the resolution of disease



Principal Investigators

Professor Christopher D Buckley - Director of Birmingham NIHR Clinical Reseach Facility and Arthritis Research UK Professor of Rheumatology
Professor Caroline Gordon - Professor of Rheumatology
Professor Karim Raza - Professor of Clinical Rheumatology
Professor Andy R Clark - Professor of Inflammation Biology
Professor Simon Bowman - Consultant Rheumatologist and Honorary Professor, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
Dr Dagmar Scheel-Toellner - Reader in Translational Inflammation Research
Dr Stephen Young - Reader in Experimental Rheumatology
Dr Andrew Filer - Senior Clinical Lecturer in Rheumatology
Dr Benjamin Fisher - Senior Lecturer in Rheumatology
Dr Francesca Barone - Senior Clinical Lecturer in Rheumatology
Dr Paola de Pablo - Senior Clinical Lecturer in Rheumatology
Dr Helen McGettrick - Arthritis Research UK Career Development Fellow
Dr Rowan Hardy - Arthritis Research UK Career Development Fellow