A $6 million federal grant, the largest ever awarded to Wake Forest, will enable health and exercise science researchers to further study knee osteoarthritis and successful treatment measures in community-based settings.
Health and exercise science professor Steve Messier and colleagues have spent 26 of the last 34 years at Wake Forest studying the effects of exercise and dietary restriction related to knee osteoarthritis (OA) through clinical trials research. This new grant will fund a study known as WE-CAN – Weight Loss and Exercise for Communities with Arthritis in North Carolina – that will put these years of highly-controlled clinical study results to the test in a real-world setting.
“Knee osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability in older adults and there are over 250 million people in the world affected,” Messier said. “Our work has looked at effects of walking, strength training and weight loss on function and pain in OA under very controlled settings. We’ve decided to take what we’ve learned before and move it out in the community.”
Armed with the grant from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), Messier and his team, which includes professor Gary Miller, a nutrition expert, and associate professor and health psychologist Shannon Mihalko, both of the Health and Exercise Science department, are conducting what’s known as a pragmatic clinical trial in which there are very few controls in order to simulate normal clinical conditions.
In January 2016, the researchers will begin recruiting 820 participants age 50 and over, who experience knee pain most days of the week to study over an 18-month intervention period. The participants will represent three diverse residential and socioeconomic groups from Forsyth, Haywood and Johnston counties. Half of the participants’ will be randomized to an exercise (walking and weight training) and diet (with a goal of 10 percent body weight loss) group while the other half will be a successful aging control group.
The Wake Forest team is also working with co-investigators from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Harvard University, Wake Forest Health Sciences, East Carolina University, and the University of Sydney, Australia.
In 2013, the team published results in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) from the IDEA randomized clinical trial showing that a combination of exercise and at least a 10 percent weight loss reduced chronic knee pain by more than 50 percent in overweight and obese adult patients. That’s better than the average pharmacologic intervention of 30 percent reduction in pain in half of those treated, Messier said.
Watch a video of the researchers discussing WE-CAN.