The CLUSTER consortium, a U.K-wide research effort focused on improving the lives of young people with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and uveitis, was recently awarded £5 million (about $7 million USD).
CLUSTER (Childhood arthritis and associated uveitis: stratification through endotypes and mechanism) brings together experts from across the U.K., along with patients and their families, to improve the lives of children with these conditions and to help clinicians target specific treatments. Specifically, researchers want to identify a panel of tests that will help match therapies to patient groups with similar characteristics so healthcare professionals can deliver effective treatments as quickly as possible.
“We are excited to be involved in the CLUSTER consortium, leading the integration of patient and genomic data in a data warehouse hosted in a cloud computing facility. This builds on similar work that we have been doing on other conditions, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis and Sjogren’s Syndrome. Ultimately we hope to bring insight from other similar diseases to speed new therapies into the clinic for the treatment of JIA and Uveitis,” Michael Barnes, PhD, a CLUSTER co-investigator and director of bioinformatics at Queen Mary’s William Harvey Research Institute, said in a press release.
Arthritis can cause poor quality of life and long-term disability in children. Early diagnosis and treatment is needed to prevent knee and hip replacements, as well as the need for wheelchairs. Patients who also have uveitis, a condition where the inside of the eyes become inflamed, are at risk of vision loss and blindness.
Experts estimate that 1 in 1,000 children suffer from JIA.
Many JIA patients are often forced to try several treatments, on a trial-and-error basis, until a therapy that works for them is found. Along the way, they may experience time out of school, painful side effects, and possibly a worsening of symptoms.
Eilean MacDonald, now 18 years old, was diagnosed with JIA at 18 months, and is taking part in the study. She tried various medications over many years until she found the right treatment to alleviate her symptoms. She now uses crutches and will undergo an ankle replacement in the summer.
“This research is so important — it could mean the next generation of kids with childhood arthritis won’t have to go through what I did. They could have the right therapy handpicked for them, reducing the impact it has on their lives. They could have even one piece of their life that’s more consistent and predictable while living with this disease,” she said.