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Our history and achievements

The early years

Arthritis Research UK began life as the Empire Rheumatism Council, set up in 1936 by Dr Will Copeman, an eminent physician and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), and other like-minded doctors, who were committed to stopping the pain of arthritis.

World War II intervened, but crucially, in 1950, the speciality of rheumatology was recognised by the RCP – a sign that musculoskeletal conditions as we know them today were being taken seriously by the medical profession.

In 1953 the charity set up the UK’s first Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Manchester. The following year we founded the university’s now renowned epidemiology unit to better understand the causes and development of disease.

In the 1950s, the charity began to train doctors and medical students and educate the public. The first information booklet, on rheumatoid arthritis, was published in 1956; osteoarthritis followed two years later.

From the 1960s onwards our research began to show that arthritis is neither simply a wear and tear condition, nor an inevitable part of ageing. 

Arthritis Research UK’s flagship research centre, the Kennedy Institute, was responsible for the charity’s biggest success yet. Scientists Tiny Maini and Marc Feldmann research into the activities of a disease-causing molecule called tumour necrosis factor (TNF) in the 1990s. This led to a whole new class of drugs called anti-TNF therapy, transforming the lives of people with rheumatoid and other types of inflammatory arthritis over the past 15 years.

In more recent years we have undertaken big genome screens to find the genes that cause osteoarthritis, lupus and ankylosing spondylitis.  We have invested in research to help the millions of people living with osteoarthritis, previously a hugely underfunded area of research, despite causing pain and disability to eight million people in the UK.

Our centres of excellence in Tissue Engineering, Pain, Ageing and Primary Care have brought together leading experts and resources to work towards understand the causes of osteoarthritis and to develop new and better treatments.

Recent years

Our network of experimental treatment centres have supported the testing and development of new treatment for arthritis and related conditions. We are funding the first clinical trial in the UK to compare different cell types in the treatment of osteoarthritis. The aim is to repair damage to the joint, stop the condition getting worse and delay, or even avoid, the need for knee replacement surgery.

An exciting development is the use of targeted treatments (or stratified medicine). Instead of treating all patients with a particular type of arthritis in the same way, the treatment they receive is personalised based on the way the patient experiences their condition and how this affects their response to treatment. This could help the thousands of people with rheumatoid arthritis for whom current drug therapies don’t work.

We continue to provide information to help those living with arthritis. There are more than 90 booklets covering a wide range of conditions, which you can download or order as hard copies. You can even save the information you need most to your own library. Our information has been used by millions of people in the UK, to help manage pain and support daily living.

We have worked hard to ensure key decision makers in government at all levels take arthritis more seriously, and make it a priority. Our reports have helped to improve government policy relating to people with arthritis in the healthcare and public health systems. In 2014 this campaigning spirit went further still, to a call for candidates in the 2015 general election to champion the prevention and cure of arthritis, and transforming the services for people with the condition by becoming an Arthritis Champion.

Allison’s story – rheumatoid arthritis and anti-TNF

Allison Morsali

Read how anti-TNF therapy helped Allison beat the pain from her rheumatoid arthritis.

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Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.