Specific Areas of Study on Osteoarthritis

Genes and Their Impact
Researchers suspect that inheritance plays a role in 25 to 30 percent of osteoarthritis cases. They have found that genetics may play a role in approximately 40 to 65 percent of hand and knee osteoarthritis cases. It's believed that inheritance might play a role in other types of osteoarthritis as well.
Scientists involved in researching osteoarthritis have identified a mutation (or gene defect) that affects collagen (an important part of cartilage) in certain people living with osteoarthritis. People with this gene mutation have an inherited kind of osteoarthritis that starts at an early age. The mutation weakens collagen protein, which may break or tear more easily under stress.
Scientists are looking for other gene mutations in osteoarthritis. Recently, researchers found that the daughters of women who have knee osteoarthritis have a significant increase in cartilage breakdown, which makes them more susceptible to disease.
In the future, a test to determine who carries the genetic defect (or defects) could help people reduce their risk of osteoarthritis through lifestyle adjustments.
Treatment Strategies
There are a number of different treatment strategies that researchers are currently studying. This includes looking at new medicines, as well as tissue engineering opportunities.
Currently, no treatments for osteoarthritis actually prevent the disease or reverses the process once it begins. Present treatments just relieve the symptoms.
Osteoarthritis research scientists are looking for drugs that would prevent, slow down, or reverse joint damage. One experimental antibiotic drug, doxycycline, may stop certain enzymes from damaging cartilage. The drug has shown some promise in clinical studies, but more studies are needed. Researchers also are studying growth factors and other natural chemical messengers. These potential medicines may be able to stimulate cartilage growth or repair.
Tissue engineering is another area of osteoarthritis research. This technology involves removing cells from a healthy part of the body and placing them in an area of diseased or damaged tissue in order to improve certain bodily functions. Currently, it is used to treat small traumatic injuries or defects in cartilage; if researchers can continue to improve this approach, it could eventually help treat osteoarthritis. Following are three types of tissue engineering currently being studied:
  • Cartilage cell replacement
  • Stem cell transplantation
  • Gene therapy.
(Click Tissue Engineering and Osteoarthritis for more information.)
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