Forty years ago Drs. Eric Gall and Robert Volz began building a personal friendship and a professional relationship that has enabled tens of thousands of people in Southern Arizona and throughout the nation to live healthier lives with arthritis.

Gall, a rheumatologist, and Volz, an orthopedic surgeon, are co-founders of the University of Arizona Arthritis Center, which was established in 1985.

"We hit it off when we first met in the parking lot at University Medical Center. It was instant friendship. … We talked about our dreams and teaching together and researching together," said Gall, a UA professor of clinical medicine in the section of rheumatology who has served as interim director for the University of Arizona Arthritis Center since 2010.

"We opened our practices, and (Volz) came into our rheumatology clinic and I saw his total-joint patients and our residents and fellows began training together. We informally saw each other's patients and gave them one-stop shopping. Originally our dream was for orthopedics and rheumatology to work together, but as we grew, it became much bigger," Gall said.

The concept of collaboration is a driving force behind the center, which provides a multidisciplinary facility for bench-to-bedside research with a range of specialists not only in rheumatology, orthopedics and orthopedic surgery, but also immunology, radiology and pharmacology.

The specialists work together to better identify the causes of the many forms of arthritis and develop improved technologies for diagnosing, measuring and treating the disease.

The center is also exploring innovative resources in possible treatments.

"We have a new set of players," Gall said. "Psychiatry, integrative medicine, occupational therapy, vocational rehabilitation, immunobiology, podiatry, vascular surgery, biomechanics, sociology and other disciplines are working together in the center sharing ideas and activities."

Gall emphasized that while finding causes and cures for arthritis is the center's mission, improving quality of life for the estimated 1 out of 4 people in Arizona affected by the disease is an important part of that goal.

"We are interested in outcomes, and what happens when people are young that leads to good or bad outcomes with the different kinds of arthritis," he said.

The center's main focuses are rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, gout, infections in people who have arthritis and arthritis in the elderly, as well as pediatric rheumatology, he said.

Education is another key to maximizing well-being for patients with arthritis and their families, and both physicians feel that the upcoming 11th annual Living Healthy With Arthritis Conference, on Jan. 26, plays a vital role in education and outreach.

"Most arthritic conditions don't take the patient's life, but they seriously compromise quality of life. There are so many patients out there suffering, and the center has been enormously successful at educating doctors, residents and the public through seminars about current treatments, clinical trials, drugs, surgeries and the latest information," said Volz. He is a UA professor emeritus and honorary lifetime surgical director of the arthritis center and member of its advisory board.

As the two reflect on careers that encompass more than four decades of working to better the lives of those with arthritis, both are grateful for their friendship.

"Students ask what I would do differently, and I always say, 'Nothing,' " Gall said.

"I like taking care of people with arthritis, working with prevention and doing research about how diseases work and translating that into helping people. … We are all about service to the community. That is why we are here."

If you go

• What: "Building Blocks for Living Healthy with Arthritis: A Multidimensional Approach to Arthritis Care in the 21st Century."

• When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 26. Registration begins at 8 a.m.

• Where: DuVal Auditorium at The University of Arizona Medical Center, 1501 N. Campbell Ave.

• Cost: $15 per person (free for members of the University of Arizona Arthritis Center Friends; advance registration is required). Registration deadline is Jan. 15; early registration is recommended.

• The details: The conference begins with an "Early Bird Stretch" and includes coffee and lunch, a raffle and two breakout sessions with presentations by speakers from the University of Arizona Arthritis Center and Canyon Ranch Health Resort.

Keynote speaker Dr. Esther Sternberg, known for her discoveries on the impact of the brain's stress response on arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, will discuss "The Mind-Body Interaction: How Understanding the Brain-Immune Connection Can Help Maintain Wellness."

Other presentations include "Oh, My Aching Feet … The Science of Disease Treatment of the Foot," "Matters of the Heart … Cardiovascular Issues and Arthritis," "Advances in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis," "The Anti-Inflammatory Diet," "A Physical Therapy Perspective … Advances in Osteoarthritis Treatment & Prevention," "The Secret Language of Emotions" and "The Latest News on Total Hip and Knee Replacement."

Free parking is available in the University of Arizona Medical Center-University Campus visitor/patient parking garage.

• Register: Go to or e-mail or call the University of Arizona Arthritis Center at 626-5040.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at