Paul E. Leaverton, PhD, Special Consultant
Retired ARIA Director of Research
My relationship with ARIA began in 1985, when I was Acting Director for Epidemiology and Biometry at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. I had just accepted a new position as founding chairman of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the new College of Public Health at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa. Early that summer, a quiet young man appeared at my door and asked for a few minutes of my time. He was Brian Burke, who had just begun working for a brand new research institute, ARIA, in Clearwater. Because I was administratively responsible for the Framingham (Massachusetts) Heart Study, upon which ARIA was modeled, he wanted to discuss some of the study design and data management issues. He was surprised to learn that I would soon be moving to the Tampa Bay area; a happy coincidence. I readily agreed to meet with Dr. Barrett and his staff shortly after that time. Thus began a long and, though intermittent, fruitful collaboration. Sometime after my retirement (2001) from USF, Dr. Barrett informed me that “I had flunked retirement” and would I become the new director of research at ARIA? Once again, I readily agreed. There was one caveat; I would continue in this capacity as long as it was fun. Now, after 18 months on the job, it is more gratifying than I could have imagined. Although all three of us on the research staff are part-time, we all very much enjoy working together and analyzing the valuable and voluminous ARIA data sets.
In the late 1980s, under the clear leadership of Dr. Barrett, with the advice of many scientists from around the country, the Clearwater Osteoarthritis Study (COS) took shape and became a reality. There is no question that the COS has become one of the most (if not the most) valuable data sets in the world by which to investigate the onset and natural progression of osteoarthritis (OA). Approximately 500 different variables have been recorded on over 3,700 volunteers over a 22-year period of time. Several subjects have data available for over ten years. Such longitudinal information is in persons with varying stages of OA provides the backbone of this epidemiologic study.
To date, there have been several ARIA publications adding to the scientific literature on the causes and progression of OA. However, in my opinion, the potential of the full data set has hardly been tapped. It is clear to all of us that many outstanding scientific contributions to the field are on the horizon. To ensure a scrupulously “clean” data set as we began new analyses, a project was launched a few months ago. We have labeled it the “Data Integrity Project” (DIP) and, with the unswerving, ongoing devotion of many ARIA volunteers, the entire COS data set is being re-entered and checked. A special report on the DIP will appear in a later newsletter.
The ARIA research staff consists of Epidemiologist Lissa Fahlman, DC, MSPH, Biostatistician Emmeline Sangeorzan, MPH, and me. To augment our capabilities, and taking advantage of the growing recognition of COS’s value, we have been gradually increasing our collaborative arrangements with scientists from other institutions. At this time, established investigators from the Universities of South Florida (Colleges of Medicine and Public Health), Georgia, Miami, Oxford University (UK), the National Center for Health Statistics, and The Florida Knee and Orthopedic Center, are involved in cooperative COS studies with ARIA staff. We are also ably assisted by a succession of graduate students from the
Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics of the USF College of Public Health.
Enough of the Data Integrity Project has been completed that we are currently in the process of analyzing factors related to the early onset of knee osteoarthritis. Special reports on these and other important ARIA investigations will appear in forthcoming issues. Pardon the cliché, but it truly is an exciting time at ARIA. Every day, my staff and I are grateful for the many volunteers who are working so diligently to make possible all the current and forthcoming studies.
For additional information please visit www.preventarthritis.org.