Arthritis & inflammation

Inflammation is a common underlying feature of numerous diseases, including arthritis, Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Out with Gout - A crystal of uric acid (monosodium urate - marked with an arrow), under attack by an inflammatory immune cell.

Recently there has been a significant escalation in inflammation-related conditions associated with the rise in obesity in developed countries.

These conditions include gouty arthritis, Type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease - commonly grouped under the term 'metabolic syndrome'.

A common feature of metabolic syndrome is high levels of uric acid in the blood (hyperuricaemia).

Our arthritis & inflammation research

Dr Jacquie Harper’s Arthritis and Inflammation Research Group is investigating the differential effects of the crystalline and soluble forms of uric acid on human and murine immune cell function. 

The knowledge from which will help expand our understanding of the multifaceted role played by uric acid in the regulation of inflammation in disease.

Hyperuricaemia (high levels of uric acid in the blood) is regarded as a primary risk factor for gout, an intensely painful form of arthritis affecting many New Zealanders. A gout attack is triggered when uric acid crystallises in the joints, causing rapid and painful joint inflammation. Previous research from Dr Harper’s team, collaborating with Wellington Rheumatologists Professor Andrew Harrison and Dr Rebecca Grainger, showed that hyperuricaemia may moderate the immune responses to inflammatory stimuli.  Dr Harper is now examining this phenomenon more closely in a follow-up clinical study involving gout patients, in collaboration with Christchurch Rheumatologist Associate Professor Lisa Stamp and Professor Tony Kettle.

Hyperuricaemia is also observed in obesity. Research to date has focused on the inflammatory environment in adipose tissue and there is little information available on how diet-driven obesity affects other immune cell populations. To address this question, Dr Harper and colleagues are collaborating with Auckland Rheumatologist Associate Professor Nicola Dalbeth, to investigate how hyperuricaemia alters the inflammatory immune responses of obese and non-obese mice.

In other research, Dr Harper and colleagues are working with Dr Roger Hurst from Plant & Food Research to explore the feasibility of utilising the natural anti-inflammatory properties of New Zealand fruit crops to treat lung inflammation. Their basic research results have shown such great promise that candidate fruit extracts are now being trialled in asthma patients, in collaboration with Professor Richard Beasley from the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand.

Collectively these studies are providing important insights into new potential therapeutic options for the improved management of inflammatory diseases.

We would like to acknowledge the following organisations and individuals for supporting our research programmes:

Foundation for Research, Science & Technology, New Zealand Lottery Health Research, Wellington Medical Research Foundation

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