UNC osteoarthritis study celebrates 20th year, receives $3.25 million renewal grant

News of the renewal funding arrived as the UNC researchers who run the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project are preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary on Saturday, Oct. 29, in Smithfield, N.C.

Media contact: Tom Hughes, (919) 966-6047, tahughes@unch.unc.edu

Monday, Oct. 24, 2011

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded a $3.25 million grant to researchers at UNC Rheumatology/Thurston Arthritis Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to complete a 20-year follow-up of participants in the long-running Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project.

News of the renewal funding arrived as the researchers who run the unique, community-based study are preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary at an Oct. 29 event in Smithfield, N.C.

“The most exciting part of this new contract with the CDC is that we will be conducting follow-up on people in the Johnston County Osteoarthritis Project who have been with the study for up to 20 years,” said Dr. Joanne Jordan, principal investigator of the study and director of UNC Rheumatology/Thurston Arthritis Research Center. 

“This is very important because it allows us to examine risk factors that may take a longer time to have their effects in causing osteoarthritis and disability. These risk factors might be different from other risk factors that cause early-onset of disease.”  

One of the risk factors to be examined in the 20-year follow-up is leg length inequality, a condition in which one leg is slightly longer than the other.

“We have shown leg length inequality to be associated with osteoarthritis in the hips and knees,” Jordan said. “By studying people for a longer time, we will be able to find out if a leg length inequality actually causes the arthritis over the long-term or makes pain, symptoms, and disability more likely.”  

Weight maintenance compared to weight loss will also be a focus of the 20-year follow-up. Obesity is a very strong risk factor for the development of symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. But for many people weight loss is often hard to achieve and maintain.

“We have shown that weight loss decreases the risk of osteoarthritis, but maintaining weight, as opposed to losing weight, does not really protect people from getting knee osteoarthritis,” Jordan said. “We plan to study whether weight maintenance, as opposed to weight loss, could be protective for late-onset osteoarthritis.”  

The 20-year follow-up will also examine how having arthritis and diabetes or heart disease can compound disability and make the effects of each of these diseases much worse. “More than half of people with diabetes and heart disease also have osteoarthritis, and this can keep them from increasing their physical activity and exercising, which is necessary to treat these conditions,” Jordan said.

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