In 1990, UNC researchers came to Smithfield to find out if osteoarthritis was more common in rural areas.
"And if it's true, we could try to figure out what to do about it and how to prevent it," said Dr. Joanne Jordan.
Jordan and her team recruited more than 3,000 people with osteoarthritis to participate in the study.
Frances Lynch took part in one of the studies. Now she is volunteer who interviews potential participants.
"Most everybody was really interested in it, because most everybody knows someone or has it themselves," Lynch said.
In the clinic, nurses test patients for strength and mobility. While the physical demands of rural living are a factor, Jordan said her team has discovered that a lot of cases are hereditary.
The team has also debunked a belief that African Americans are less likely to have osteoarthritis.
"Our study here has shown absolutely that is not true. That the African Americans in our study had just as much hip osteoarthritis as our white participants if not worse osteoarthritis," Jordan said.
The next phase of the project will focus more on the genetic factors of arthritis and the emotions that come with having the condition.
Another 1,200 to 1,500 people will be recruited for the next phase of research.
The studies are funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and run through the Thurston Arthritis Research Center at UNC.