Atlas of Histopathology Education for Advancing Diagnostics in Giant Cell Arteritis (AHEADgca)

Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is the most common form of vasculitis.

Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels, and in GCA, the vessels most commonly affected are the arteries around the head. GCA only develops in older people (over the age of 50 years) and the average age of developing GCA is 75 years.

GCA is extremely serious because it can lead to permanent blindness and complications such as a heart attack or stroke. These risks are so great that patients with suspected GCA are often treated with steroid medication before diagnosis is confirmed. Diagnosis is difficult though, because symptoms are vague and can mimic common complaints in older people (e.g. headache, tiredness, weight loss). There is single blood test for GCA, so doctors must review a range of time-consuming tests from different specialists. The ‘gold standard’ test is the temporal artery biopsy. However, GCA is a rare disease and not all doctors who report these see large numbers of positive biopsies. This leads to differences in the interpretation of biopsies, with no agreed standards, which may lead to patients not receiving the correct treatment.

Leeds Hospitals Charity has awarded over £90,000 to Kathryn Griffin for the AHEADgca project, which will develop a new reporting system and provide much-needed training for UK histopathologists who diagnose GCA using temporal artery biopsies, and the clinicians who interpret these reports. This will lead to patients getting more accurate test results and, in turn, receiving appropriate treatment.

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