Murray Maxwell Biomechanics Laboratory (MMBL)

The Murray Maxwell Biomechanics Laboratory (MMBL) is an engineering-based laboratory that studies the relationship between mechanical properties of body tissues and joint diseases. We have received funding from a variety of medical research organisations and government bodies, including NHMRC, ARC and the Lincoln Foundation for Bone and Joint Disease.

Key areas of research interest for us include:

  • the relationship between bone and joint loading conditions and the development of post-traumatic osteoarthritis
  • the effects of abnormal tendon loading on the development of tendinopathy
  • developing a kangaroo tendon xenograft for human ACL reconstruction

We use a variety of models to investigate these areas, ranging from human cadaveric joints to animal models and isolated tissues in culture, and are also interested in developing imaging methods (eg MRI and ultrasounds) to study these important issues painlessly.

We also collaborate with orthopaedic surgeons, and the orthopaedic, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries on a wide range of research projects to improve outcomes after tendon and ligament injuries, fracture fixation, and joint reconstruction and replacement surgeries.

Director –  Dr. Elizabeth Clarke

Raymond Purves Bone and Joint Research Laboratory

The Raymond Purves Bone and Joint Research Laboratories (RPRL) a biology-based laboratory that investigates the molecular, cellular and tissue changes that underlie and cause bone and joint disease. We focus on diseases of the joint (particularly osteoarthritis), spinal disorders such as intervertebral disc degeneration, and conditions affecting tendon, ligament and knee meniscus.

Our research is based on the belief that new therapies can only be developed through a better understanding of the mechanisms that drive the initiation and progression of bone and joint disease.

Our goals are threefold:

  • to discover the cellular and molecular mechanisms that lead to degeneration and subsequent failure of bone and joint tissues
  • to determine how pathology in different tissues is interrelated
  • to understand how all these changes contribute to patients’ pain.

We develop and use unique models of disease to help discover new pathways and therapeutic targets and to translate these findings into clinical practice by testing therapies that may halt or reverse the disease process. We work closely with clinicians and surgeons at RNSH and have long and ongoing collaborations with academic and industry-based researchers in Australia and the world.

Our research is funded by a variety of government, philanthropic and commercial sources including: National Health and Medical Research Foundation (NHMRC, Australia), Australian Research Council (ARC), Arthritis Australia, Australian Orthopaedic Association Research Foundation, Rebecca Cooper Medical Research Foundation, The Hillcrest Foundation, The Lincoln Foundation for Research Into Bone and Joint Disease, Northern Sydney Area Health Service Research Fund, and the Sydney Medical School Foundation.

Director – Professor Chris Little

Sutton Arthritis Laboratory

The Sutton Laboratory focuses on investigating the disease mechanisms and identifying potential therapeutic targets for inflammatory disorders, particularly rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory skin conditions including chronic wounds.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

The three main research areas are:

  1. Predicting efficacy of biologics in patients with RA. Although biologics have proven efficacy for RA treatment, around 40% of patients fail to fully respond to biologics. It is not possible to predict which patients will respond to which therapy, so the choice between biologics is often trial and error.  To assess predictive potential in the clinic, we are measuring selected panels of inflammatory molecules in tissues and cells from RA patients in response to biologics.  We are aiming to provide an individualised predictive marker for treatment preselection using the patient’s own cells.
  2. Testing the therapeutic effects of the natural anticoagulant, activated protein C (APC) and its analogues, in RA using normal and genetically-modified in vivo models of human inflammatory arthritis and in vitro cell culture models. This approach is different from that used with the current range of “biologics” therapy, since APC has more comprehensive actions compared to current biologicals as it targets all the major inflammatory mediators, including TNF-α. Overall, we have shown that APC acts by dampening inflammation thus restoring the normal immune response, suppressing cartilage degradation, and preventing vascular damage to form stable, non-leaky blood vessels.
  3. Microbiome and RA. There is a growing awareness of the human microbiome and its potential role in the onset, severity and progression of RA, as well as its impact on the therapeutic management of patients. This research is analysing the gut, oral and skin microbiome of patients with newly-onset RA in comparison to disease-free participants, incorporating questionnaire data that explores medication intake, diet, gastrointestinal symptoms and self-reported health outcomes. This project will facilitate the development of innovative therapeutic interventions for RA patients.

Inflammatory skin conditions

We have extensively tested the mechanisms and efficacy of APC and its analogues to heal wounds in a laboratory setting using cell culture and in vivo models. In collaboration with clinicians and surgeons at RNSH hospital, we have conducted numerous small clinical trials in patients with recalcitrant wounds. All patients have responded well to the APC therapy and their wounds healed rapidly. We are currently seeking FDA approval to conduct a large Phase 2 clinical trial. Additionally, we are working on novel therapeutics for other skin conditions such as severe burns, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.

Our studies into rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory skin conditions involve collaboration with the Australian Arthritis and Autoimmune Biobank collaborative (A3BC), numerous RNSH staff from various hospital departments including Rheumatology, Orthopaedics, Dermatology, Endocrinology and The Severe Burns Unit.

Director – Professor Chris Jackson