Osteoarthritis Technology NetworkPlus (OATech+): a multidisciplinary approach to the prevention and treatment of osteoarthritis

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


In the UK, over 8.75 million people seek treatment for osteoarthritis (OA) each year. It affects 13% of people aged 55-64 and 70% aged 65-74, is characterised by joint pain and loss of cartilage and involves joint loading, shape and structure changes. The links between these factors and the underlying molecular mechanisms that lead to arthritic degeneration and pain are not well understood. Our lack of understanding of the processes that drive joint degeneration in OA prevents timely diagnosis for those at risk of developing OA and hinders optimal treatment. Surgery, rehabilitation and pain management are commonly used for patients with pain and disability associated with OA and musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders; however for a significant proportion of patients, treatment outcome is sub-optimal. If clinicians could predict which patients respond best to which form of treatment, this would allow tailored treatment with clinical and health economic benefits. Patients would get the right treatment at the right time, avoiding pain and inappropriate surgery or rehabilitation.
There is a currently a lack of (i) appropriate experimental and clinically relevant tools to monitor subtle changes in joint structure, biomechanics and metabolism for early OA detection; (ii) disease control via targeted drug, surgical and rehabilitation intervention, as standard practice; (iii) validation of surgical and rehabilitation interventions. The Network will address this to trigger the disruptive change in research necessary for future diagnosis and treatment of OA, ensuring international competitiveness for this high impact disease. It includes over 70 academic, clinical and industry UK and international participants with experience and expertise in human, animal and cell experimentation and modelling; data and imaging analysis to provide high-level evidence for safety and efficacy of medical devices and incorporating engineering technology, biomechanics and biology into clinical studies with strong end user steerage.
It will facilitate novel mechanisms to link research disciplines and develop the MSK research area through advances in technology, engineering and physical sciences. By identifying challenges and barriers to technology development that UK research must address it will ensure future studies encompass the necessary scientific advances, fused with clinical and biological solutions to optimise treatment via diagnosis, prediction and evidence-based intervention. A treatments taxonomy will direct the development of future therapies to enhance efficacy, restore function, optimise surgery, and exploit self-management of health.
Network activities, from people development (discipline-hopping, innovation awards, studentships), ideas generation (sandpits, hackathons), networking (seminars, conferences); outreach (exhibitions, science cafés); funded flagship, feasibility projects (informed by network activities in year one) and ideas that have high potential for innovation and impact, will ensure success and demonstrate how engineers, physical and computer scientists, biologists and clinicians team up to optimise, review and setup studies that collate biomechanics, clinical, patient and biological information for technology development and validation of experimental and clinical tools and targets. Impact and translation are guaranteed by embedding the Biomedical Engineering community with experience in OA/MSK technology research, with key clinicians and biologists who lead research in animal, cell and patient based studies. User engagement and steerage will be supported via clinical and industry partners, Patient Public Involvement and Public Health links. The metrics for success are research (research income, high impact papers), effectiveness in initiating new collaborations in terms of new cross-disciplinary researchers and end-users; and new academics, fellows, students and members of the public engaged with OA research.

Planned Impact

OA Tech+ will contribute to the full impact spectrum: societal impact in terms of benefits to health, clinical practice and the environment; economic impacts across the private and public sectors as a result of new experimental tools, biomedical technologies and reduced healthcare costs; professional impacts in terms of the training new personnel and new skills development for existing personnel, and enhancement of the UK's knowledge base. This will be underpinned by the development of the OA Tech+ Impact and Translation Toolkit and deliver national and global impact by engaging beneficiaries and users across multiple sectors.
OA Tech+ Infrastructure: Supporting Network efforts and maximising impact, aided by the Network Coordinator and Research and Innovation Services of the numerous partner institutions, which includes specialists in a range of technology translational activities such as intellectual property protection. International research leaders, clinicians and business specialists will be invited to join the major review meetings. They will advise on how to maximise clinical and commercial impacts. The involvement of clinical NHS colleagues will play a key role in ensuring that the efforts of our network are focused on clinical need and will assist us in translating promising approaches into practice. Outputs will enable a larger proportion of the ageing population to enjoy an active, healthy quality of life. The website; the public face of OA Tech+, will take full advantage of the impact opportunities provided by social media. Presence at major conferences and exhibitions will ensure network outputs are effectively disseminated to researcher communities and general public. Many of our partners including PI/Cis have experience in outreach activities to promote OA Tech+ in schools and colleges, public fora and through national and international media.
Socio-economic benefits: Of 8.75m UK arthritis sufferers, treatment outcome is sub-optimal for many patients, it is costly to treat and offers significant opportunities to improve healthcare and quality of life, thus increasing workforce productivity. We will deliver demonstrable improvements in understanding disease mechanisms leading to improved diagnosis and treatment assessment via effectively communication with users, professionals and policy makers.
Research Feasibility studies: New experimental and clinical tools will be validated through multidisciplinary feasibility studies to bring benefit to multiple users. With a clear pathway to clinical impact, potential trial design of new therapeutics and medical diagnostics will utilise expertise from several UK Trials Units. Evaluation via peer reviewed research awards, high level publications and supported by Government initiatives such as the £100m Life Sciences in Wales funding a range of support from professional advisers, patent agents and technology transfer specialists, will ensure NHS spending will be better targeted towards patients and positive outcomes will improve reducing further spending for patients that return to clinic for further treatment.
A large patient group: By 2030 there will be more than 19m people over 60 in the UK compared with 16m younger adults; so this study also has longevity and will continue to provide future financial benefits. Involvement of clinicians and clinical organisations, directly and in an advisory capacity, ensures impact and establishes an effective pathway for widespread dissemination.
UK charities, private sector and policy makers: Involvement of partners across Arthritis Research UK funded Centres has potential to make significant impact on charity activity. Involvement of important industry partners ensures commercial sector impact to deliver new products for more effective surgery and rehabilitation. Involvement of NIHR/NISCHR, WARN, NICE, ARUK places policy makers at the heart of this Network; advances in treatment regimens will shape new policies and procedures


10 25 50
Description Engagement with the Public to raise awareness of OA and the research that is undertaken in the UK currently.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Healthcare
Impact Types Societal
Description School of Healthcare, Cardiff University 
Organisation Cardiff and Vale University Health Board (Bwrdd Iechyd Prifysgol Caerdydd a'r Fro)
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Working with academics in Healthcare to develop further sensor sets and wearables for monitoring of knee and low back pain patients as part of the Arthritis Research UK Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre
Collaborator Contribution Attendance at several discussions regarding patient rehabilitation schedules and exercises for total knee replacement. Discussions regarding our development of patent based sensor sets in the lab an clinic before home testing. Contributions to the ethical approval applications and protocols.
Impact IRAS approval for the initial lab based studies with patients.
Start Year 2015
Description Establishing an OATech Network + website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Patients, carers and/or patient groups
Results and Impact The OATech Network + website has been established as a tool of engagement, collaboration and multi-disciplinary user communication.
The site offers two portals:
A science portal established for those interested in research in the field of OA, and for the multi-disciplinary Network Partners to interact and collaborate. This is also there to engage with industry, clinicians and policymakers
A public and patient portal established to communicate Network opportunities and findings to the public and patients, offer engagement opportunities and opportunities to influence research, encourage across portal interaction, provide links to OA relevant events, support groups and charities.

Ultimately the website is there is encourage engagement across multiple stakeholder groups, with the aim of sustaining the Network beyond its initial four year period of funding.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Involving Network People Annual Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Patients, carers and/or patient groups
Results and Impact Nine individuals chose to attend a "pitch session" introducing the OATech Network +, as part of the Involving Network People Annual event.
WE had a engaging session with discussion on OA, current management , problems with management, Cardiff University research and the introduction of the Network. We shared personal experiences, engaged in activities organised by myself, had a demo of new technology used in clinical research, and evaluated the newly commissioned Network website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.healthandcareresearch.gov.wales/events/2017/03/01/involving-people-network-annual-meetin...