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Leigh Callahan, PhD, Interviewed by Arthritis Today Regarding CDC Study Evaluating Why Too Few People with Arthritis Are Engaging in Physical Exercise

UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center epidemiologist Leigh Callahan, PhD, recently provided Arthritis Today with expert insights regarding an important new CDC study that explored the reasons why too few people with arthritis are engaging in physical exercise - even though physical activity is considered an important and first approach for people with arthritis symptoms.

The study found that, while healthcare providers are doing a better job of counselling patients with arthritis to engage in exercise, approximately 40 percent of these patients are still not getting appropriate medical counselling about doing exercises to improve their symptoms during their medical visits.  Read the Arthritis Today article to learn more about the issue, as well as to find useful exercise-related information and resources available for patients available via the Osteoarthritis Action Alliance's website

Researcher Lara Longobardi, PhD, Awarded $1.7 Million Grant to Investigate Biological Factors That Contribute To Development of Osteoarthritis Following Joint Injury

UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center scientist Lara Longobardi, PhD, is conducting research designed to yield important new insights into the causes of osteoarthritis, with the goal of helping identify better ways to diagnose and treat the disease. Her work is largely focused on the role played by chemokines (pro-inflammatory molecules) in cartilage and bone degeneration after an injury, and how they affect the pain response.

Specifically, Dr. Longobardi’s research team is focusing on the C-C chemokine receptor 2 (CCR2). This is the receptor for several chemokines involved in the early phase of cartilage and bone degeneration during osteoarthritis following injury, as well as during aging. Her lab uses an in vivo model of OA to understand whether targeting the CCR2 receptor prevents or delays the pathological changes in articular cartilage and bone induced by OA. She is also analyzing pain-related behavioral data to understand the contribution of the CCR2 receptor to pain perception during osteoarthritis.

These types of insights are important to the medical community because they provide clues that may result in more effective treatments for osteoarthritis (OA), a disease which affects over 30 million Americans, and is a leading cause of disability in the adult population. Scientists now know that nearly half of the people who sustain significant knee damage will later develop injury-induced OA. Age also plays a significant role in osteoarthritis, and it is estimated that half of the world’s population aged 65 and older suffers from this disease.

The goal, says Longobardi, is to find new targets to control joint degeneration and pain during the early steps of osteoarthritis development.

Her research is made possible thanks to the NIH National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), which dedicated $1.7 million dollars over a 5-year period to investigate the role of CCR2 in osteoarthritis. 

Yvonne Golightly, PT, PhD, is Conducting Innovative Research Into the Effectiveness of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for Knee Osteoarthritis

UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center investigator Yvonne Golightly, PT, PhD, and her colleague Abbie Smith-Ryan, PhD, (UNC Department of Exercise and Sport Science), are researching High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as a new, promising approach to add to rehabilitation programs for people with knee osteoarthritis. HIIT includes very short periods of vigorous exercise, as opposed to longer periods of moderately paced exercise. The research is made possible thanks to funding from the NIH National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHID).

Physical activity is recommended for people with knee osteoarthritis, which is a leading cause of disability in the U.S.  Unfortunately, few people with knee osteoarthritis get the recommended amount of physical activity (at least 150 minutes/week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes/week of vigorous exercise) because of physical limitations, pain, or feeling that they do not having enough time to exercise. 

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is being tested as new way to help overcome these barriers for people with knee osteoarthritis.  HIIT requires minimal time commitment (10 minutes of exercise two times/week).  Although HIIT is often thought of as an exercise approach to improve sport performance in athletes, it can be performed by people with many different levels of physical fitness because it can be customized to the unique needs and abilities of each person.  HIIT programs have been safely performed among people with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

Finding new treatment approaches for osteoarthritis is a crucial step needed to lessen the rising public health burden of knee osteoarthritis.  It is hoped that HIIT programs can further advance physical therapy approaches by helping individuals with knee OA improve their ability to perform activities of daily life, reduce their pain, and enhance their overall health. 

Dr. Golightly is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Division of Physical Therapy, and a researcher at the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center as well as the Injury Prevention Research Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.  

Rheumatologist Beth L. Jonas, M.D., Receives Reeves Foundation Distinguished Professorship

Beth L. Jonas, M.D., a leading rheumatology thought leader, has been awarded the endowed Reeves Foundation Distinguished Professorship in Arthritis Research. Endowed professorships are one of the highest honors bestowed by UNC upon faculty, in order to recognize the University’s most accomplished scientists and educators. In addition to honoring exceptional achievement, these professorships help the University recruit, retain, and support the highest quality faculty for its Department of Medicine. Dr. Jonas, who is Interim Chief for the UNC Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology, and Director of the Rheumatology Fellowship Training Program at the Thurston Arthritis Research Center, is a nationally recognized clinician educator who has served in numerous leadership roles within the rheumatology community. (More...)

During her 20 years at UNC she has been instrumental in establishing one of the country’s top-tier Rheumatology fellowship training programs, and leading the Division’s educational mission throughout the UNC School of Medicine.  In recognition of her leadership and vision, Dr. Jonas was named the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Distinguished Program Director in 2015.  Her work in developing a novel curriculum in Rheumatology at the UNC School of Medicine is supported by an ACR Rheumatology Research Foundation Clinician Scholar Educator Award.

Richard Loeser, MD, Director of the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center, also recognized Dr. Jonas’ contributions to her field.  “Beth Jonas is a natural choice as recipient of this honor because she has contributed nationally as well as regionally to the development and implementation of innovative educational programs in rheumatology and is well known for providing high-quality and personalized care for patients.”  

Ron Falk, M.D., Chair of the UNC Department of Medicine, added, "This is a well-deserved distinction for a highly-accomplished clinician, and an outstanding educator who is committed to training the next generation.  We are grateful to the Reeves Foundation for making this honor possible."     

TARC and Affiliated Researchers Publish Paper Regarding Fear of Movement Associated with Osteoarthritis of the Knee

Findings from Thurston Arthritis Research Center scientists and Thurston-affiliated researchers have been published in Arthritis Care and Research. The study focused on "Fear of Movement and Associated Factors Among Adults with Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis." It concluded that fear of movement (FOM) was common for these patients, and suggested that behavioral and psychological interventions may decrease FOM as well as improve outcomes. (More...)

To read the read the research findings, use this Link.  


Dr. Amanda Nelson and Dr. Yvonne Golightly Lead the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project as Co-Principal Investigators

For more than 25 years, the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project has established itself as one of the premier longitudinal research studies world-wide regarding the causes, societal implications, and means of addressing the impact of osteoarthritis. Ongoing research is providing important new insights regarding how osteoarthritis is diagnosed and assessed clinically, as well as how it can be addressed in community settings.
Dr. Amanda Nelson and Dr. Yvonne Golightly Lead the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project as Co-Principal Investigators  click to enlarge Amanda Nelson, MD, MSCR, RhMSUS; and Yvonne Golightly, PT, MS, PhD

The Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project was initiated in 1990 and led for 27 years by Dr. Joanne M. Jordan, who was the principal investigator, and who also served as Director of the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center as well as Chief of the UNC Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology Division.  With Dr. Jordan’s promotion to the role of Vice Dean in the Office of Faculty Affairs and Leadership Development, the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project is now being led by two Co-Principal Investigators with the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center: Rheumatologist Amanda Nelson, MD, MSCR, RhMUS; and Epidemiologist Yvonne Golightly, PT, MS, PhD.  Dr. Jordan remains a co-investigator for the research project.   

“I am thrilled to have two highly skilled investigators to take the reins of this long-standing project, and I am eagerly anticipating how they will shape the next 25 years of this unique community-university partnership,” says Dr. Jordan.

Both Drs. Nelson and Golightly have worked with the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project since 2006 and together have authored 33 publications based on findings from this project.  Research performed in Johnston County, NC, has been the source of over 70 supplementary and ancillary studies as well as more than 200 publications.  

“Our research is unique because we are bringing to bear a vast repository of population-based data, paired with the latest findings that are being made available thanks to innovative analytic methods and application of imaging and other technologies,” says Dr. Nelson.  "As a result, we are gaining valuable insights that help better inform how we evaluate and treat patients with osteoarthritis.” 

Dr. Golightly, who combines her research background with training as a physical therapist, adds that a key goal of the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project is to identify interventions that patients can implement in their daily lives. 

“In addition to learning about the causes and implications of osteoarthritis, we want to know more about what can realistically be done now – in real-world community settings – to reduce the impact of this disease on patients here, and across the country,” says Dr. Golightly.

Drs. Nelson and Golightly are leading efforts to begin enrollment of new participants, in order to address naturally-occurring attrition as well as to also include a younger cohort of participants, starting at age 35.  This new cohort in Johnston County will include White, African American, and for the first time, Hispanic men and women.   

Read more about the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project via this link.

Arthritis Researcher Brian Diekman, PhD, Awarded Grant to Explore Common Mechanisms of Aging

Aging is the greatest risk factor for osteoarthritis, but little is known about how specific age-related changes to cells cause the breakdown of cartilage. The research funding provided by a grant from the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR) will enable Dr. Diekman to study mechanisms of aging across different tissue systems. The hope is that this type of research will help play a role in advancing new discoveries that can help prevent and better treat all forms of arthritis. (More...)

Learn more about Dr. Diekman's research as well as the grant received from AFAR via this link.

You can also read an article regarding Dr. Diekman's work that was recently published by the Arthritis National Research Foundation, via this link.

Several Studies Authored by TARC and Osteoarthritis Action Alliance Researchers Are Published in North Carolina Medical Journal

Topics covered range from whether Osteoarthritis (OA) might be a predictor of mortality, challenges associated with management of the disease, the impact of musculoskeletal health on disability, and implications of obesity on musculoskeletal health. (More...)

Thurston Arthritis Research Center (TARC) and Osteoarthritis Action Alliance experts whose research was included are:  

-Rebecca Cleveland, PhD, and Leigh Callahan, PhD:  Can Osteoarthritis Predict Mortality? 

-Reshmi Raveendran, MD; and Amanda Nelson, MD, MSCR:  Lower Extremity Osteoarthritis - Management and Challenges.

-Kelli Allen, PhD:  Musculoskeletal Health - Addressing the Leading Causes of Disability.      

-Kirsten Ambrose, MS:  Where Does it Hurt?  Implications of Obesity on Musculoskeletal Health. 


Kelli Allen, PhD, Is Among the Leading Researchers Involved in Innovative Studies of Pain Management Interventions for Members of the Military and Veterans

Members of the military and veterans are disproportionally affected by pain, and the government is searching for ways to help them deal with this widespread and growing problem. New research being conducted thanks to multiple grants recently awarded by DHHS, the Department of Defense, and the VA will help investigate the feasibility, safety and effectiveness for a number of non-drug approaches for pain management and related conditions. (More…)

Among the types of approaches being studied are mindfulness/meditation, movement interventions such as yoga and tai chi, massage, acupuncture, and cognitive behavior therapy.  Dr. Allen is part of a collaborative team that includes investigators at the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs in Durham, NC, as well as Duke University's School of Medicine, with a project aimed at improving access to appropriate non-pharmacological therapies for veterans with back pain. 

"Collectively, this research has the potential to help define which types of non-drug pain interventions can make the greatest difference for the millions of veterans and members of the military whose quality of life has been impacted by chronic pain,” said Dr. Allen, who is a Research Professor of Medicine and faculty member at the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center.  Additional information about the research involved in this initiative is available via this news release.

Lupus Patients Have the Option to Administer the Medication Benlysta Themselves at Home, Thanks in Part to the Efforts of Dr. Saira Sheikh

Lupus patients who previously needed to visit an infusion center to receive the drug Benlysta, now have the option to administer the medicine themselves at home using a novel "auto-injector" device, thanks in part to the efforts of Dr. Saira Sheikh, who is a rheumatologist and allergist/immunologist at UNC, and who also directs the Lupus and Clinical trials programs at the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center. (More...)

Dr. Sheikh was recently invited to share her expertise during an educational session at the live national broadcast of the launch of the subcutaneous Benlysta auto-injector, in which she discussed day-to-day challenges faced by lupus patients, therapeutic approaches in lupus, and the Benlysta auto-injector clinical trial. Dr Sheikh was Principal Investigator on the clinical trial and first author on the research paper ( outlining the patient experience with the auto-injector device.   

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