THURSDAY, March 14 (HealthDay News) -- In a very early sign of
medical progress on the osteoarthritis front, scientists report
they've used injections of modified genes to reduce the risk that
mice will develop the painful, debilitating condition.
There's no way to know if the gene therapy treatment will help
humans, and scientists are far from understanding the treatment's
side effects and potential cost. But the findings are more than
just good news for mice with creaky joints.
"This work identifies an approach that can make a difference," explained study co-author Dr. Brendan Lee, director of the Rolanette and Berdon Lawrence Bone Disease Program of Texas. "There's a great need for treating and preventing osteoarthritis."
The disease, the most common form of arthritis, appears as your
joints deteriorate with aging. It often strikes the hands, knees,
neck and hips, causing pain, stiffness and difficulty moving.
Seventy percent of Americans aged 55 to 70 struggle with
osteoarthritis, for which there is no cure. Doctors try to treat
the pain and improve the ability of patients to move, Lee said, and
may turn to joint replacement surgeries in advanced cases.
In the new study, researchers examined a protein that diminishes
in people with a rare joint disorder. The protein appears to be
crucial to the lubrication of joints.
Researchers injected a gene related to the protein into mice and
found that the rodent bodies began producing it. The mice appeared
to be resistant -- but not immune -- to damage to the cartilage of
joints from injury and aging, Lee said.
There are plenty of caveats.
The research is in mice, not humans; the next step is to test
the approach in horses, whose joints are similar to those of
people. And the gene therapy doesn't seem to do anything for damage
that's already occurred.
"This kind of therapy would probably not be very useful in patients who have advanced disease," Lee said, adding that the treatment would likely have to be used with other strategies.
Dr. Joanne Jordan, director of the Thurston Arthritis Research
Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the
findings "would be really very exciting if this translates up into
humans." The study, she said, appears to be reasonable and
especially strong because it looks at osteoarthritis in the mice
from different angles.
Currently, Jordan said, treatments for osteoarthritis, such as
painkillers, come with potentially severe side effects. And in many
cases, she added, the damage is done by the time people notice
there's a problem.
The study is published in the March 13 issue of
Science Translational Medicine.
For more about
osteoarthritis, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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