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Dr Fiona Watt has been awarded a prestigious UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship to further her research for better treatments for people living with, or at risk of the commonest form of arthritis, osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis affects 8.5 million people in the UK. There is now a pressing need to find new treatments which can slow or prevent this form of arthritis. Many clinical trials in osteoarthritis have failed, perhaps because not everyone gets progressive symptoms or damage, or because osteoarthritis is often relatively advanced (and perhaps less reversible) in those taking part in studies.

Dr Watt says: “Our ability to find new effective treatments may improve if we can intervene earlier, identifying and FionaWattQuote.jpgtargeting treatments for those at risk of progression. My studies focus on a subgroup of people with a major risk factor for osteoarthritis: acute joint injury, where ~50% of individuals develop so called ‘post-traumatic osteoarthritis’ (PTOA). We have shown that joint injury triggers an immediate, inflammatory, mechanically-driven response, some of which appears necessary for later osteoarthritis.

Our KICK study follows individuals with acute knee joint injury over five years, collecting clinical information, samples and imaging. In KICK, we aim to measure important processes that occur at the time of joint injury which are associated with switching on (or off) PTOA, with the aim of predictive testing. These ‘tests’ include many different person factors and types of marker, for example genetic markers of PTOA.”

Fiona’s fellowship will build on initial findings, working with researchers nationally and internationally, testing larger numbers of markers in larger numbers of individuals for the first time. These studies will also reveal how similar (or different) PTOA and ‘usual’ OA are – important for the field and currently not known. 

“When we find new targets, it is important that we can deliver successful clinical trials. As part of the fellowship I will help to develop guidelines for trials seeking to measure ‘prevention of osteoarthritis’, aiming to overcome existing roadblocks”, adds Dr Watt.

A University Research Lecturer and honorary consultant rheumatologist at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, Fiona works in two Centres of Excellence funded by Versus Arthritis (formally Arthritis Research UK): Osteoarthritis Pathogenesis (leading clinical translation) and Sports, Exercise and Osteoarthritis. 

Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Research at Versus Arthritis says: “We are thrilled to hear about Dr Fiona Watt’s fellowship which is thoroughly well deserved. We have been honoured to support such an outstanding researcher like Fiona during her career; the award of this prestigious fellowship exemplifies her excellence in research and commitment to improving the lives of people with arthritis and we look forward to continuing to work with her in the future.”

The UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships scheme supports early career researchers and innovators with outstanding potential in universities, UK registered businesses, and other research and user environments including Research Councils’ institutes and laboratories.