Large grants for UM research into early detection of osteoarthritis

Three research consortia recently received 3.1 million euros from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and the Dutch Arthritis Society (ReumaNederland) for research into the early detection of osteoarthritis. Two of these three are Maastricht based projects. The Maastricht University researchers and their teams will work on an application for the early detection of knee osteoarthritis and on a screening tool for early diagnosis based on predictive biomarkers.

No treatment

There are currently 1.5 million people with osteoarthritis in the Netherlands. Without intervention, there will be one million more by 2040. The RIVM predicts that this will make osteoarthritis the most common disease in the Netherlands. There is no treatment for osteoarthritis, which can slow down, stop or cure the disease. NWO and the Dutch Arthritis Society have therefore joined forces to launch a new call for interdisciplinary research on osteoarthritis. The aim is to stimulate the development of early diagnostic tools or technological innovations that show which form and phase of osteoarthritis is present. 

This will enable an efficient and effective joint-preserving treatment pathway for every person with osteoarthritis in the future. As a result, people with osteoarthritis (or at risk of developing it) will be able to live longer in good health and actively participate in society, without compromising their quality of life. In the long term, early detection will save money because fewer people will suffer from osteoarthritis in the future.

The awarded projects:

Improving early Detection of KNEE osteoarthritis with AI-driven point-of-care ultrasound: ID-KNEE study - Dr Ramon Ottenheijm, Maastricht University

Knee osteoarthritis is often difficult to diagnose, especially in people with early or mild symptoms. Improving early diagnosis ideally starts in general practice, the first step for most people with knee pain. The development and introduction of a smartphone-based point-of-care (POC) ultrasound application with artificial intelligence (AI) for the early detection of knee osteoarthritis has the potential to address this diagnostic challenge for general practitioners.

The general practitioner performs POC ultrasound, so that the diagnosis is immediately known and treatment can start. The affordable AI-driven POC ultrasound device eliminates the observer dependency that characterises ultrasound and minimises the training requirements.


CircBioCare: Circulating epigenetic and protein biomarkers for early OA diagnosis in primary care and patient stratification - Dr Berta Cillero-Pastor, Maastricht University

Osteoarthritis (OA) affects hundreds of millions of people, and its incidence is set to increase due to our aging population. Considering this, the need for early diagnosis has never been greater. In this project, we will develop state-of-the-art methods to detect blood proteins and genetic material associated with the onset of OA in people who are followed over a long period until they develop OA. Artificial intelligence, digital PCR and Proximity Extension Assay will be used to design predictive tests. Finally, we will investigate what determines people’s perceptions of healthcare screening to reduce the risk of developing OA.

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