• Thanks to a £1.6M Wellcome Trust award, researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, will contribute to the analysis of data from 100,000 men and women in the UK Biobank study, evaluating how the size, shape and structure of bones and joints leads to the development of common age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

    Musculoskeletal disorders are a leading cause of disability in the UK’s rising aging population, primarily due to low back pain, fractures and diseases such as osteoarthritis. The total cost of joint replacement and hip fracture surgery is approaching £9.5bn annually and represents a major burden on society and the NHS. The study is intended to reduce the impact of these common musculoskeletal disorders by providing a basis for improved means of disease prediction, prevention and treatment.

    The project, led by Jon Tobias, Professor of Rheumatology at Bristol Medical School, will involve a collaboration between researchers from Bristol, Manchester, Southampton, Aberdeen, Cardiff and Queensland universities.

    Using a combination of scans and genetic data from around 100,000 40-to-69-year-old men and women who were recruited to the UK Biobank study, the team will explore how the size, shape and structure of hips, knees and spines contribute to the development of fractures, osteoarthritis and back pain. The findings will then be used to develop novel strategies for identifying those at risk, slowing disease progression and treating those with established disease.

    Professor Nicholas Harvey, Professor of Rheumatology and Clinical Epidemiology at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, and part of the investigator team, said: “This large grant from the Wellcome Trust gives us a wonderful opportunity, using the internationally unique UK Biobank cohort, to investigate how novel measures of bone and joint shape might predict debilitating outcomes such as fracture and arthritis. The findings will help tell us who is most at risk of these outcomes, and provide insights into how we can prevent them.”

    Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director and Professor of Rheumatology at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton said, “Our contribution to this work forms part of a larger programme of research at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, addressing the determinants of osteoporosis and musculoskeletal health across the lifecourse, and demonstrates the importance of working with world leading globally unique resources such as the UK Biobank.”