OAK: An Alliance Involving Faculty at the Forefront of PTOA Research

Osteoarthritis is the deterioration of protective cartilage cushioning the bones. It affects more than 30 million Americans and has a complex interaction with obesity, socioeconomic status, and mental illness.

There are no disease-modifying drugs for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Instead, treatment often relies on a combination of orthopaedic surgery and physical therapy. Kentuckians also struggle with posttraumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA), which results from a traumatic joint injury. PTOA has become the most common cause of disability for civilians and military service members. Two of the most common sources of its development are fractures involving the joint surface and athletic joint injuries resulting in ligament or cartilage damage. Traditionally, there has been little overlap between these two mechanisms of injury though they both lead to the same disease end point.

Kentucky is an ideal location to work toward solutions because of its prevalence of arthritis, obesity, and mental illness, as well as its high number of citizens living in economically distressed communities. The Osteoarthritis Alliance of Kentucky (OAK), a team under the University of Kentucky Alliance Research Initiative, has been established to provide a structure linking UK researchers with varied skills and knowledge to deliver a comprehensive treatment strategy for these conditions.

Cale Jacobs, PhD, assistant professor in the UK College of Medicine Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, and Brian Noehren, PT, PhD, associate professor in the UK College of Health Sciences and director of the Human Performance and Biomotion Laboratories, are co-principal investigators of the team.

“As the ‘University for Kentucky,’ we have a responsibility to leverage our shared scientific expertise and the University’s resources to cultivate the transdisciplinary Osteoarthritis Alliance of Kentucky,” Dr. Jacobs said. “The OAK seeks to address this unmet need by leveraging a unique combination of skills and expertise to deliver a comprehensive treatment strategy and improve health-related quality of life within the Commonwealth and beyond.”

OAK is supported by the University of Kentucky’s Alliance Research Initiative, made possible through funding from the UK College of Medicine, UK HealthCare, and the UK Office of the Vice President for Research.

The Alliance framework has provided a platform to develop unique, transdisciplinary research teams to address the complex nature of osteoarthritis. OAK is conducting 12 ongoing funded studies across innovative teams including members from nine different colleges or departments at UK. These projects involve faculty with diverse backgrounds and expertise, and they have engaged residents, medical students, undergraduate students, and graduate students.

OAK has also implemented a mechanism to provide pilot funding to help support related studies. Researchers have been awarded one pilot grant so far, with another set to be awarded later this spring.

Being part of the Alliance Research Initiative allows OAK to incorporate a variety of methods to research and clinical trials such as cutting-edge techniques to assess biochemical and imaging biomarkers of cartilage degradation and muscle dysfunction, wearable technology, joint biomechanics, inflammatory phenotypes, advanced multivariate statistical approaches, psychosocial and neurologic adaptations that influence treatment outcomes, novel anti-inflammatory and rehabilitation interventions, and qualitative approaches to identify barriers to implementation of successful treatments.

“OAK faculty are at the forefront of PTOA research, and the collective expertise of the OAK clinician scientists and researchers uniquely poise our group to successfully advance PTOA care,” Dr. Jacobs said. “By joining investigators together who approach PTOA from diverse perspectives, we have the unique framework to study the disease from molecular, joint, and whole-person perspectives in a way that has never been done before.”

Bringing together researchers and physicians across UK, UKHealthCare’s Level I trauma center, and the UK College of Medicine’s nationally recognized orthopaedic trauma and sports medicine programs has helped establish UK as the “best in class” site for the study of PTOA.

To learn more about OAK and other UK Alliance teams, visit www.med.uky.edu/alliance.

OAK Alliance Team Members:

  • Arun Aneja, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine
  • Caitlin Conley, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine
  • Stephen Duncan, MD, Associate Professor – Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine
  • Christopher Fry, PhD, Associate Professor – College of Health Sciences
  • Jean Fry, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Health Sciences
  • Peter Hardy, PhD, Associate Professor – Department of Radiology
  • Greg Hawk, Graduate Student
  • Hannah Hoch, PhD, ATC, Assistant Professor – College of Health Sciences
  • Cale Jacobs, PhD, Director of Research – Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine
  • Kyle Kosik, PhD, ATC, Assistant Professor – College of Health Sciences
  • Kate Kosmac, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Health Sciences
  • David Landy, MD – Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine
  • Paul Matuszewski, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine
  • Brian Noehren, PT, PhD, Professor – College of Health Sciences
  • Doug Oyler, PharmD, Assistant Professor – College of Pharmacy
  • Mike Samaan, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Education
  • Austin Stone, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine
  • Leon Su, Graduate Student
  • Katherine Thompson, PhD, Associate Professor – College of Arts and Sciences
  • Grace Walton, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Health Sciences