Healing hands: the art and science of arthritis

Degenerative musculoskeletal conditions are common. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most prevalent, affecting over eight million people in the UK. The condition leaves patients suffering with pain, deformity and disability. This has a significant impact on their activities of daily living.

Other than the face, hands are usually the only visible parts of a person’s anatomy. They display the manifestations of various systemic diseases, making them the 'diagnostic windows of arthritis'. The human hand has a multitude of roles. It is the main source of differentiated tactile sensations; it is uniquely prehensile enabling complex grips and gestures; it becomes an expression of our personality when adorned with jewellery. Diseases of the hand affect all of these roles leading to aesthetic, functional and psychological dysfunction.

During her residency, Francesca Corra will explore the disease process of hand arthritis and how patients, clinicians and researchers interact with the condition. Although researchers might dedicate their life to arthritis, they rarely, if ever, meet patients with the condition. Similarly patients and clinicians do not necessarily fully appreciate or understand the huge effort that goes into researching the condition in the search for a treatment.

Francesca will be based at the Arthritis Research UK Centre for OA Pathogenesis at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, University of Oxford. This is the largest musculoskeletal institute in the country and has outstanding links between the laboratory and the clinic. She will learn about hands and hand disease from the 'molecular-to-cellular-to-tissue-to-anatomy-to-patient' perspective. She will also meet patients with the condition, attend surgery to see first-hand the anatomy and pathology of disease and visit the laboratories to see experiments on the diseased tissue. There will also be an opportunity to visit the University Dissection Room to examine cadaveric specimens. This will result in a series of drawings and provide the exploratory work for a series of animations that will be a means to inform and engage patients in relation to their condition.

Francesca’s residency will culminate in a public workshop and exhibition of hand portraits resulting from a series of interviews with patients, clinicians and researchers. Each portrait will be accompanied by a short description about the person and their relationship with the osteoarthritis. The work will be displayed as a public exhibition at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital, Oxford. After this time the series will be displayed prominently at the Kennedy Institute at the University’s Old Road Campus in Headington, Oxford where it will be visible to scientists, administrative staff, lay members of our Board of Trustees and visitors as a remind of why we are doing the research.

Professor Tonia Vincent and Miss Francesca Corra
Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology & Musculoskeletal Sciences, University of Oxford
Artist in Residence Grant