U of S researchers excel at conference with juvenile arthritis findings

Two ground-breaking studies that could help juvenile arthritis sufferers manage their pain, and provide an important new tool for researchers to develop treatments for the disease took top honours at the Canadian Arthritis Network Annual Scientific Conference in Quebec City.

By Mark Ferguson

With these wins, the U of S pediatrics department won two of the four categories for poster presentations at the conference where more than 170 abstracts from across Canada were presented. While the majority of posters related to adult rheumatology, both of these projects deal with the childhood form of the disease.

Susan Tupper tracked changes in juvenile arthritis patients' pain throughout the day and assessed how their pain is affected by different levels of physical activity. Tracy Wilson-Gerwing has developed the first-ever model for the study of juvenile arthritis and pediatric inflammatory pain caused by arthritis.

Tupper, a PhD candidate in the department of community health and epidemiology, won the clinical health services category for her study examining how pain changes during the day for juvenile arthritis patients.

"This is the first study to describe within-day variability in pain in youth with arthritis," Tupper says.

Tupper found that patterns of pain throughout the day differed for males and females and differed depending on the type of arthritis. The results may help youth cope with arthritis by allowing them to plan activities to coincide with times when their pain should be lower.

In a related study not presented at the conference, Tupper collaborated with researchers in the department of computer science to develop an electronic pain diary for the iPod Touch. Participants' physical activity was also monitored by motion sensors. The study showed pain increased with too much or too little activity.

"They were more likely to have lower pain when they were lightly active," Tupper says.

Both of Tupper's studies were funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation.

Wilson-Gerwing, a post-doctoral fellow working under pediatric rheumatologist Alan Rosenberg, won the inflammation and immunology category. Her study demonstrates that juveniles and adults respond differently to arthritis.

"Until now, basic science research into arthritis interventions have treated children and adults with arthritis as equals," Wilson-Gerwing says.

Using rodent models, she found distinct differences between juveniles and adults with arthritis, suggesting that the practice of applying adult data to youth may not be valid. Wilson-Gerwing's work provides a model for testing the effectiveness of arthritis treatments in juveniles. This has implications for how juvenile arthritis is treated and how young patients will manage their pain.

"Now that we know there are differences in how adults and juveniles develop arthritis, we can go on to explore whether or not there are also differences in how their bodies sense pain," she says.

Wilson-Gerwing's research is supported by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, the U of S Office of the Vice-President Research, the Pediatric Rheumatic Diseases Research Laboratory, and the Institute of Child and Adolescent Arthritis Research.