Professor receives Fulbright award for juvenile arthritis research

Maura Iversen, professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences, has received a Fulbright award to work in Sweden during the 2016-17 academic year. It is there that she will launch a study to assess the physical activity levels of children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis—the most common form of arthritis in children under 17.

Throughout her career Iversen’s research has focused on rheumatology, with a particular emphasis on studying the efficacy and effectiveness of non-pharmacologic interventions for people with arthritis. This work has involved creating patient questionnaires to learn about the impact of arthritis on function including physical activity patterns, with the goal of better understanding health outcomes and informing intervention development.

Many outcome questionnaires have been designed for adults, but children have often filled them out too. The problem with this approach, Iversen explained, is that youth comprehend the surveys differently than adults, muddying the results, so now she’s developing new questionnaires intended specifically for youth.

Iversen has created three such questionnaires and is in the process of developing a fourth, one of which she is having translated from English to Swedish to use for her Fulbright research. Her study will include a cohort of Swedish children, assessing the level of moderate physical activity they engaged in over the course of a week.

“Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is the most chronic illness in children, more so than diabetes, and we know that physical activity is an important component of regulating the immune response and managing the disease,” Iversen said.

Iversen will spend three months in spring 2017 at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm for her Fulbright, and she’ll be surveying children at Astrid Lindgren’s Children’s Hospital, which is affiliated with the institute.

Sweden has established a system of national registries that collect healthcare data, allowing Iversen to potentially survey thousands of children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Her hope is to be able to merge this questionnaire into this registry, thereby helping doctors in Sweden better track and assess children’s physical activity over the long term.

“The goal is to ascertain how much physical activity children are engaging in and to determine if they are meeting, or exceeding, their targets, and finally to assess the impact that has on the progression of the disease and children’s health outcomes.”