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New research into why obesity can lead to osteoarthritis

Dr Sarah Baker

Dr Sarah Baker

Press release issued: 6 July 2011

Scientists at the University of Bristol’s Musculoskeletal Research Unit are investigating why people with very dense bones are more likely to develop the painful condition of osteoarthritis.

Dr Sarah Baker, specialist registrar at Southmead Hospital has been awarded a clinical PhD studentship of £164,000 over three years from Arthritis Research UK.

Osteoarthritis is a common joint condition that affects around eight million people in the UK and leads to stiff, painful joints. Treatment is limited to pain relief or ultimately joint replacement surgery and there is no effective means of preventing progression in early disease. The main risk factors are ageing, being obese, and having an joint injury earlier in life, but little is known about the causes of the condition.

Now Dr Baker, who will be working at the University’s Musculoskeletal Research Unit based at Southmead Hospital, plans to study a group of 300 people from England and Wales who have extremely high bone mass, to find out more about the role of metabolic and genetic factors in increasing the risk of osteoarthritis.

“Several studies suggest that patients with osteoarthritis tend to have denser bones, and recent studies have identified a pathway between bone and fat, with several points that could be targeted for new treatments,” explained Dr Baker.

“It may be that genetic changes that are responsible for high bone mass cause osteoarthritis through direct effects on cartilage, and these factors could help shed light on the role of new biological pathways involved in the development of osteoarthritis.“

Dr Baker will study a group of people with high bone mass who also have unexpectedly high amounts of fat. She will investigate whether metabolic factors linked with obesity can explain why bone mass increases the risk of osteoarthritis and if genes linked with high bone mass have any direct effects on cartilage that lead to the development of the condition.

Ultimately the research could contribute towards new strategies to develop new drugs which prevent disease progression as well as new genetic tests to identify those at risk.


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