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Carrying out better research through collaboration

The MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centre for Integrated research into Musculoskeletal Ageing (CIMA) is a collaboration between researchers and clinicians at the University of Liverpool, University of Sheffield and Newcastle University. We are funded by the Medical Research Council and Arthritis Research UK. The Centre was established in 2012 and its success was recognised by the renewal of its funding in 2017.

What are we trying to understand? 

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How muscles, bones and joints change as we ago

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How this makes some people prone to problems with these tissues, such as arthritis and osteoporosis

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What each person can do to reduce the risk of developing these problems

Helping to treat an ageing population


The simple fact is, we are all getting older and living longer.

While that may be a good thing, it does pose challenges to the way our healthcare systems, and our society, copes with caring for a rapidly growing population of older people.

Recent studies estimate that, by the year 2050, there will be 2 billion people worldwide over the age of 65. At that point in life, the complexity of a persons healthcare needs increases, as does the cost of their care.

To compound this issue, findings by the ONS state that, in the UK, disability-free life expectancy in those over 65 has been falling since 2012. Worryingly, this means that not only are more people living longer, their general standard of health is falling.

At CIMA, we are committed to tackling this issue by producing effective research with a real translational effect on society. We want to greater understand the mechanisms and processes involved in ageing so we can support and care for the population, ensuring they enjoy the highest quality of life and guaranteeing that our healthcare systems can provide for them effectively.


Looking to the future


We have been awarded five further years of funding to continue our work. Our first phase of funding, starting in 2012, offered CIMA scientists the opportunity to identify epigenetic changes to cells. It appears that these changes play a vital role in whether muscles, bones and joint tissues decline quickly or slowly as we age.  

During the next phase, CIMA will seek to characterise the importance of these changes and to establish whether we can modify them, in order to reduce risks of muscle, bone and joint problems. We will also look more closely at whether nutrition and exercise can prevent or reduce the risk of these problems.  

In addition to this, we plan to expand our training programme, so that more scientists and doctors can carry out high quality research to address the challenges of musculoskeletal ageing. 



5 key objectives

1. Determining the role of epigenetic changes in ageing 

To determine the epigenetic changes in the musculoskeletal system that occur with ageing, how these changes influence the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, the effect of modification of age-related epigenetic changes on musculoskeletal function and the effect of lifestyle changes on age-related epigenetic marks and molecules. 

2. Studying the effects of different interventions in the ageing process 

To design and implement a series of studies to examine the effect of interventions based on physical activity, nutrition, anti-inflammatory or age-retarding agents on age-related decline of the musculoskeletal system. This will encompass experimental medicine studies, pre-clinical studies and population studies.  

3. Extending the CIMA training programme 

To extend the CIMA training programme to increase PhD and clinical fellow training, and further develop the joint MRes in Musculoskeletal Ageing to deliver this training to students from a wider range of backgrounds who can bring additional skills to this research area. 

4. Developing CIMA’s impact

To develop the engagement and impact-generating activities of CIMA to increase involvement of patients with musculoskeletal disorders and representatives of the older population in the development and evaluation of our research strategy; and to work with potential partners to maximise translation and widespread application of our research. 

5. Building a robust evidence base 

To build a robust evidence base that will enable CIMA to inform and influence public health policy, contribute to international research strategies and advise industrial partners.