University of Twente participating in Canadian juvenile arthritis study

A network of Canadian researchers and international partners, including several UCalgary investigators, has received 10 million Canadian dollar in funding from Genome Canada, in partnership with the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) and numerous other co-funders. 

This funding is part of an infrastructural boost – of approximately 255 million Canadian dollar– for genetics-based research in Canada. Maarten IJzerman, a full professor at the University of Twente’s Health Technology and Services Research department (HTSR), is participating in this study. Prof. IJzerman explains that “Together with Deborah Marshall (University of Calgary) and other partners, we will seek better and more efficient ways of prescribing medication, through the use of genetic information.”

Arthritis doesn’t just affect seniors

More than 24,000 children in Canada live with the painful, chronic disease that can cause fevers and destruction of joints, leading to a life of permanent disability. A class of powerful drugs called biologics can dramatically reduce joint inflammation and pain and prevent joint damage in the longer term, though they also come with a risk of side effects. The drugs can cost as much as 400,000 Canadian dollar per year, and children may only qualify after traditional treatments have failed, by which time permanent damage may have occurred. Evidence shows that early short- term biologic treatment, even for as little as three months, can result in long-lasting disease control in the most severely affected children.

10 million Canadian dollar grant will support treatment for children with arthritis

The new funding will allow researchers to identify which children need biologics, which biologic will work best for an individual child, and when the biologic can be safely stopped.  Researchers will also work with health service policy makers to assess the socioeconomic benefits of these strategies, looking at costs of treatment, quality of life, time lost from school, lost employment opportunities and lost work time for the parents of these children.

The grant will also allow the team to develop the first genomics-based, low-cost biomarker blood test to rapidly identify the best treatment for each child, completely transforming the treatment of childhood arthritis. A smartphone- and web-based system of eHealth apps will establish an integrated network of patients, physicians and researchers. This will allow researchers to evaluate the risks, benefits and costs associated with these medications, which will inform health-policy decision makers about cost effectiveness, patient preferences and affordability.

The University of Twente’s role

For the University of Twente, UCAN CURE is the second major grant programme involving the use of genetic information to find ways of improving the care of children with juvenile arthritis. In January 2016, UCAN CAN-DU (Understanding Childhood Arthritis Network – Canadian/Dutch Collaboration), a joint project between The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw), the Dutch Arthritis Foundation (Reumafonds) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), was also awarded grant support. While UMC Utrecht is UCAN CAN-DU’s official secretary in the Netherlands, UCAN CAN-DU involves a network of all specialized children’s rheumatology centres throughout the Netherlands and Canada.

At the University of Twente, this study is in keeping with the HTSR chair’s programme into the effectiveness of personalized medicine. In this area, a great deal of research is being carried out into the clinical and economic benefits of molecular diagnostics and genomic sequencing in oncology and paediatric rheumatology.

More information

The leading participants in this project are Prof. Rae Yeung (Toronto) and Dr Susa Benseler (Calgary). In the Netherlands, Prof. Nico Wulffraat and Dr Joost Swart (both at UMC Utrecht) are involved. For further details, please contact Prof. M. IJzerman at the University of Twente.

Laurens van der Velde
Press relations (available Mon-Fri)
Martine van Hillegersberg
Press relations (available Mon, Tue, Thu)