Nov. 5, 2019

Improving mobility for life for all Albertans

During a golf game in 2002, Richard Whitnack tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. He had surgery to repair the injury, and was fine until 2015 when he began experiencing pain in the same knee. An X-ray revealed advanced osteoarthritis.

“The worst part of arthritis is the pain,” says Whitnack, who recently had knee replacement surgery.  “I was taking pain medication twice a day and at night so I could sleep. I couldn’t walk very far, or do work around the house or garden.”

Although he’s not yet able to work in the garden, Whitnack’s mobility has improved significantly since his surgery. “The pain is a lot better now and walking is much easier,” he says. “Sometimes I even forget to use my cane.”

Long-term studies yield important information

Physicians know that ACL tears like Whitnack’s put patients at risk for developing arthritis. In fact, a 2007 study out of Lund University in Sweden showed the chance of developing arthritis within a decade of ACL reconstruction is greater than 50 per cent. 

Drs. Carolyn Emery, MSc’99, PhD, and Janet Ronsky, PhD’95, researchers with the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health, are using medical imaging technology to watch for the onset of osteoarthritis (OA) in study participants over a 15-year period. If they can determine how, why and when OA starts developing, perhaps interventions can be devised to halt the development or progression of the disease.

This is one of many examples of how long-term studies could change the course of bone and joint diseases. 

Richard Whitnack

Richard Whitnack

 “I’d like to see researchers discover ways to slow down or stop the progression of arthritis,” says Whitnack. “So, I will absolutely participate in the Mobility for Life Project. It’s important to me to help future generations so they don’t have to live with the pain that I did.”

The Mobility for Life Project

Because bone and joint diseases take years to develop, it’s important for researchers to study people over a long period of time. Recognizing this, the McCaig Institute is launching an exciting new initiative: the Mobility for Life Project. 

“We’ll be asking thousands of Albertans — both with and without bone and joint conditions — to participate in a number of long-term research studies,” says McCaig Institute director Dr. Steven Boyd, MSc’97, PhD’01. The Mobility for Life Project will encompass studies already happening in the institute as well as new initiatives. 

“The information collected will form one of the world’s most comprehensive musculoskeletal health databases, helping researchers identify early indicators of disease, improve diagnosis and target effective treatment.”

The McCaig Institute has committed $1 million to get the project started. Future funds will come from research grants as well as private and corporate philanthropy.

10,000 by 2025

Researchers hope to recruit 10,000 study participants by 2025. Once enrolled in the project, volunteers will complete a detailed questionnaire on lifestyle factors, nutritional information and medical history. Participants will undergo baseline tests and measurements, such as blood and urine collection and various imaging scans. Participants will be re-assessed several times over 20 years.

“Everyone who participates in the Mobility for Life Project is contributing to knowledge that will help researchers worldwide understand how and why bone and joint diseases develop and progress,” says Boyd. 

MoJo and the McCaig Institute

The McCaig Institute has a long history of basic scientists working with physicians and the health-care system to ensure research impacts patient care. With researchers and clinicians from the Cumming School of Medicine, the faculties of Kinesiology, Nursing, Veterinary Medicine, and the Schulich School of Engineering, the institute is renowned for its expertise in imaging, biomarkers and stem cells.

Much of the research data for the Mobility for Life Project will be collected in the McCaig Institute’s new Centre for Mobility and Joint Health (MoJo). The facility, located in the Health Research and Innovation Centre at the University of Calgary’s Foothills Campus, houses some of the world’s most advanced imaging, diagnostic and movement assessment technology.

“The Mobility for Life Project will shift the way we conduct research,” says Boyd. “The information collected will fuel research in our institute and beyond for years to come. It will bring together researchers from many different disciplines with the common goal of improving Mobility for Life for all Albertans.”

Join the Mobility for Life Project

To participate in the Mobility for Life Project, please visit mccaig.ucalgary.ca/mobilityforlife.

Dr. Janet Ronsky, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary. She is a member of the Cumming School of Medicine’s (CSM) McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health. Dr. Carolyn Emery, PhD, holds joint appointments in the Faculty of Kinesiology and the departments of Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences, CSM, University of Calgary. She is chair of Pediatric Rehabilitation within the CSM’s Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and a member of the CSM’s McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, and O’Brien Institute for Public Health. She chairs The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre in the Faculty of Kinesiology. Dr. Steven Boyd, PhD, is a professor at the CSM in the Department of Radiology at the University of Calgary, and holds a joint position at the Schulich School of Engineering and the Faculty of Kinesiology. He is the Bob and Nola Rintoul Chair in Bone and Joint Research and the McCaig Chair in Bone and Joint Health. He is also the director of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health.