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Published 16 February 2018

Christchurch researcher easing the pain of gout

A Christchurch rheumatologist has won one of New Zealand's top research prizes, for her work focused on how increasing dosages of gout medicines can dramatically improve patients’ lives.

Gout is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, affecting tens of millions worldwide. If left untreated, over time gout can lead to joint and kidney damage and in conjunction with other risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes it can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

Gout is of particular concern in New Zealand as Māori men have the highest reported rates of gout in the world, usually the affliction is moderated with the drug allopurinol.

In 2016, a group of international gout experts advised doctors not to use higher doses of the drug. Contrastingly, Professor Lisa Stamp’s study showed it was safe and effective to increase doses of a crucial drug for managing gout. It provided clear evidence in an area where there was much confusion worldwide.

Stamp’s robust clinical study found using higher doses of allopurinol was safe and could prevent ongoing attacks of the painful disease. It could also help stop the disease from progressing to a chronic state in many patients. 

Stamp, from the University of Otago's Christchurch campus, was this month awarded the Medicines New Zealand’s Value of Medicines Award. The award came with $20,000 to further her research.

The judges said Stamp’s study would have “a high impact on patient care, especially benefitting Māori, Pacific and renal patients.” The research would also have a big impact internationally, the judges said.

In the study, published in the prestigious journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, one group of patients had increased doses, while another group did not. Stamp found the two groups experienced similar rates of side-effects. Those on higher doses of allopurinol had better blood results for a crucial measure of the disease.

Stamp says she will use the prize money for further research on predicting patient responses to allopurinol.