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UK Researchers Scanning Arthritis Study

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Leeds researchers are among the first in the country to use new state-of-the art imaging equipment in a bid to improve the diagnosis and monitoring of patients with a common form of inflammatory arthritis.

A team from the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Leeds hope to demonstrate the effectiveness of two novel imaging techniques using a specially adapted MRI scanner.

Up to 90 patients from Leeds with psoriatic arthritis – inflammatory arthritis associated with the skin condition psoriasis – will take part on the study which is being funded by a three-year £266,000 grant from medical research charity the Arthritis Research Campaign.

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The team, led by consultant musculoskeletal radiologist Dr Philip O'Connor, based at the academic section of musculoskeletal disease at Chapel Allerton Hospital aims to identify very early signs of psoriatic arthritis using the new imaging techniques and also to measure more accurately the effectiveness of drug therapies on patients' joints.

"The hallmark feature of psoriatic arthritis is enthesitis; inflammation at the point where tendons and ligaments insert into bone called the enthesis, and there is a major unmet need for a tool that can identify and quantify this condition in this region for diagnosis, assessment of disease progression and response to treatment," explained Dr O'Connor. "Despite its success in other areas, conventional MRI cannot identify early disease."

Instead the team is using two new MRI techniques; contrast-enhanced ultrashort echo time MRI (UTE) and dynamic contrast MRI of bone marrow. Both the new systems are fare more refined and can produce a much clearer picture of the internal structures and early changes of tendons and ligaments.

"We are probably the only team in the country using these techniques, which is very exciting," added another member of the research team, consultant rheumatologist Dr Philip Helliwell. "We'd hope that these techniques will soon become mainstream and that more hospitals, not just teaching hospitals such as ours, will be using them so that all patients with psoriatic arthritis can benefit."

Two groups of 30 patients; one group with psoriatic arthritis in their hands, another with psoriasis and aches and pains but who have not yet developed psoriatic arthritis, will have their Achilles tendon scanned by the enhanced MRI to see if changes in the enthesis can be detected before symptoms develop. A third group of 30 patients, who are taking new drugs called biologic therapies, will be scanned prior to and after treatment, to measure its effectiveness.