Researcher has spent 25 years studying knee osteoarthritis

Participants needed for knee osteoarthritis study at WFU

When a long-term, successful researcher looks back at his career and decides he hasn’t done enough to help treat one of the leading disabilities of older adults, he heads back to the lab to get real-world results.

That researcher is Wake Forest University’s Steve Messier who has spent 25 plus years of his career studying knee osteoarthritis (OA), which affects 250 million people worldwide and is a leading cause of disability in older adults.

Messier, a health and exercise science professor, is launching a new study called 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.”

Messier and his team are recruiting participants age 50 and over, who experience knee pain most days of the week to study over an 18-month intervention period. 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.

“Many physicians who treat people with knee OA have no practical means to implement weight loss and exercise treatments,” he said. “We haven’t provided doctors with the vehicle to help their patients be successful. This study is significant in that it will test the effectiveness of a long-awaited and much needed community-based program that will serve as a blueprint for clinicians and public health officials in both urban and rural communities.”

Messier said it’s not enough to just understand the clinical aspects of what decreases knee pain. He hopes they can develop a ‘turn-key’ operation that can be implemented in locations such as church fellowship halls, recreation centers, workout gyms, and other community facilities where doctors can send their patients.

The idea that a community-based program like this could have a trifecta approach – weight loss and exercise are good for other co-morbidities like type 2 diabetes and hypertension – is one of its strengths. If they can prove that it works and is also cost effective, then the model will be more attractive to insurance companies, he said.

For WE-CAN, Messier wants to see the same positive outcomes as previous trials, but the main question will be whether participants can achieve those same results with less one-on-one interaction with interventionists. He’s hopeful they will be able to demonstrate that community-based intervention programs can make a difference in people’s lives and health.

“I’ve been doing this research for more than 25 years,” he said. “If we can’t do this and make this successful, I question what those 25 years were about.”

Interested participants can call 1-877-BE-VITAL (238-4825).


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