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Joint effort

12 April 2006

Osteoarthritis affects more than 35 million people worldwide. Research in the Department of Anatomy has identified new means for diagnosing and monitoring the progression of the disease.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a major cause of pain and disability in elderly people. There are more than 35 million people worldwide with OA, and currently there is neither a cure nor an effective treatment to stop the disease worsening.  The only available treatments are pain relief and joint replacement surgery.

Our research work, funded by the Arthritis Research Campaign, NHS Executive R&D Directorate and a number of collaborative pharmaceutical companies over the last five years, has identified varieties of joint-specific molecules – so-called ‘biomarkers’ of joint disease – to investigate what causes and drives the joint destruction in OA.  

A biomarker is a large molecule that is usually found in the joint tissues affected by OA and can be used to monitor or indicate the effects or progress of a disease or condition (for example, raised cholesterol is a biomarker of heart disease).  Our longitudinal studies of patients with early OA have lead to identification of several serum and urinary biomarkers for diagnosis and monitoring progression of knee OA.  Thus the results of these studies bring the goal of developing simple 'blood tests' for OA one step closer. 

We are also looking at genetic markers that might be more specific for diagnosis of OA.  If patients can be diagnosed at early stages of their disease using a combination of biomarkers and genetic markers then they can be targeted and treated more effectively, delaying or even preventing the need for joint surgery. 

We have also carried out several clinical trials to determine whether treatment related to specific joint tissue pathology, as measured by biomarkers, is more beneficial or not. The early results indicate that when non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (currently the most widely prescribed treatment for OA) were given at a time point when there was active inflammation, the patients showed better response to the treatment. 

Dr Mo Sharif/Department of Anatomy

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