10/10/2013 08:09 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Research Matters During National Arthritis Week

Do you know someone who's living with the daily, invisible pain of arthritis? It's a disease which affects one in six people in the UK, so there's a high chance that you might.

Yet there isn't a cure and we still know too little about the cause of the disease. That's why this National Arthritis Week we're raising awareness of the impact research has on our knowledge about the cause and progression of arthritis, so we can lessen its devastating impact.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint disease. It causes pain and stiffness in the joints and affects approximately 8 million people in the UK. Yet it's often dismissed as an inevitable part of ageing, something that we should accept as we get older.

We know that musculoskeletal conditions, including osteoarthritis, are the leading cause of pain and disability in the UK and can affect older and younger people alike - such as Helen, who was diagnosed with patellofemoral knee osteoarthritis at age 39.

Osteoarthritis stopped Helen from doing the everyday things that many of us take for granted - walking, moving, lifting or standing. Helen told us, "I used to be a very active person, but now the simplest daily tasks are painful and take so much longer. Knowing that I will be dealing with this condition for the rest of my life is a frightening and sobering reality to live with."

Treatments for early osteoarthritis are usually limited to non-surgical options such as pain killers and physiotherapy. People with the disease currently undergo joint replacement operations but only when the disease has deteriorated to a severe end stage, which as major surgery, carries significant risks.

That's why we urgently need to know more about the condition and are investing our time and money into research into finding the cause, treatment and cure for this debilitating disease. Only then can more effective treatments be developed so people like Helen don't have to endure the daily struggle that comes with arthritis.

This week we're launching the new Arthritis Research UK Centre for Osteoarthritis Pathogenesis at the University of Oxford. Researchers there will work to understand more about what causes osteoarthritis, so we can develop new treatments to slow down the progression of the disease and reduce people's pain.

As well as funding research into the cause of osteoarthritis, this week we're also launching a new UK-wide trial to find better treatments for osteoarthritis of the knee. Current drug treatments for osteoarthritis of the knee are limited in that they have significant side-effects and aren't suitable for many people. This trial hopes to find new and better ways for people with knee osteoarthritis to manage their pain, by testing the effectiveness of a drug called methotrexate which is currently used to treat auto-immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and vasculitis. The researchers have already performed a pilot study which showed that 37 per cent of patients with knee osteoarthritis who took methotrexate had a 40 per cent reduction in their pain. It's an exciting piece of research which we're keenly following.

We're also funding a team of surgeons and physiotherapists at Edinburgh and Aberdeen Universities to improve the poor satisfaction rate following knee replacement surgery. They aim to target intensive post-operative physiotherapy at those people who they think will benefit the most, and will attempt to predict which patients are at risk of doing less well following knee replacement surgery.

However, it's important to note that 'arthritis' is an umbrella term covering around 200 musculoskeletal conditions, and our work doesn't focus only on osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis affects nearly half a million people in the UK and is a chronic, disabling condition in which the body's immune system attacks the joints. Although newer biologic treatments have made a huge difference to many patients' lives, sadly a proportion of people do not respond to this treatment.

This isn't acceptable, so this week we launched the new Arthritis Research UK Great North Experimental Arthritis Treatment Centre at Newcastle University, where researchers are aiming to develop better therapies for people with rheumatoid arthritis. It will test drugs for rheumatoid arthritis that are being studied for other conditions such as cancer, in small numbers of patients, with the hope of bringing greater treatment choices to patients. There's a real need to do in-depth testing of the benefits and safety of new drugs in small numbers of patients before large scale trials can begin, and our new experimental arthritis treatment centres around the UK are providing the resources to study patients in these key first stage studies.

This is just a snapshot of the fantastic research we're able to fund. During National Arthritis Week we're appealing to the public to help us continue doing so. We are the only charity in the UK dedicated to funding research into arthritis and related musculoskeletal conditions and receive no Government funding - that's why we need your help and generosity to fund even more.

So I'm encouraging everyone who wants to make a difference to people affected with arthritis to find out how you can support us by visiting www.nationalarthritisweek.org.uk.