Sheffield Hallam academics will lead a major new Europe-wide research study into the effects of exercise on pain and fatigue felt by those living with systemic sclerosis.
The project, funded through a grant of almost 400,000 Euros from the Foundation for Research in Rheumatology, will run for 26 months and will be carried out across five European institutions based in the UK, Sweden, Austria, Netherlands, and Denmark. It will examine the impact of a combined exercise programme alongside traditional treatment for the condition.
Systemic sclerosis or scleroderma is caused by the immune system attacking the connective tissue under the skin and around the internal organs and blood vessels. There are several different types of scleroderma that can vary in severity.
In some cases of systemic sclerosis, organs such as the heart, lungs or kidneys are affected. This can cause a range of potentially serious problems, such as shortness of breath, high blood pressure and pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs).
The study will be led by Dr Markos Klonizakis, reader in clinical physiology, and supported by Dr Alexandros Mitropoulos, research fellow in clinical exercise physiology, who are both in Sheffield Hallam’s LENI Research Group at the Department of Nursing and Midwifery.
Researchers will recruit 180 participants who will be split into two separate groups. The first group will perform an exercise programme consisting of upper-body aerobic and resistance exercise, parallel to standard care; the second will receive standard care only. These groups will be assessed at three different points; at the start, 3 months in, and then at the 6-month stage.
Dr Klonizakis said: “This is an exciting opportunity to take the work that we have been doing in our research group, in collaboration with colleagues in the Rheumatology department of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and local patient groups of people with systemic sclerosis, to the next level.
“Having established in previous studies that exercise is a feasible and enjoyable adjunctive therapy to pharmacotherapy (with a great potential to offer clinical benefits as well), this study, which will run across five European countries led by our group in Sheffield, will allow us to explore its effects on pain and fatigue as well.”
Dr Mitropoulos said: “Systemic sclerosis is a devastating, chronic condition that severely impacts the quality of life of those affected. Therefore, showing that our programme can reduce pain and fatigue in people with systemic sclerosis could give a positive prospect for this clinical group and will be the biggest non-pharmacological treatment breakthrough for this condition.”