London: In a new study, scientists have discovered a molecule that can “regrow” damaged cartilage, which has offered hope to millions of people crippled by arthritis.
The finding could be the breakthrough experts need to create a drug capable of halting and then reversing the degenerative joint disease.
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of the condition, blights the lives of 8.5 million people in Britain. It is caused by wear and tear of joints where the cartilage that cushions movement is eaten away.
Bones then come into contact with each other and the friction makes joints swollen and extremely painful, leaving many sufferers in agony.
Current treatments can only relieve the painful symptoms of the disease. One drug was recently approved for use in Britain, which can dramatically slow its progress but it is still incurable and often leads to costly knee replacements.
Now researchers at the Scripps Institute in California and the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation in San Diego have found a molecule called kartogenin, which spurs cartilage regeneration in mice.
According to the researchers, their findings suggest that the molecule could be the basis of a new drug-based therapy for osteoarthritis.
Although more research is needed, it is likely it would be administered by an injection straight to the damaged area.
Kristen Johnson and colleagues discovered that kartogenin works by coaxing stem cells to change into cartilage cells.
When administered to mice with osteoarthritis-like symptoms, kartogenin triggered cartilage development.
The molecule works by disrupting the interaction between two proteins, taking control of a family of proteins that play a key role in musculoskeletal development.
“This may ultimately lead to a stem-cell based therapy for osteoarthritis,” the Daily Express quoted the authors of the study as saying.
At present many sufferers have to rely on anti-inflammatory painkillers, though these can damage the stomach when used long-term. In severe cases, joints are replaced. The NHS carries out more than 140,000 hip and knee replacements each year at a cost of more than 1 billion pounds.
Some patients have to undergo two operations because artificial hips or knees can wear out after 15 years. A new drug treatment for osteoarthritis would therefore save the NHS a fortune.
“We`ve known for some time that adult stem cells have the potential to develop into cartilage cells and this research supports this idea. The real challenge now is to turn these initial findings into treatment for patients,” Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said.
“Researchers at Arthritis Research UK`s tissue engineering centre are exploring how adult stem cells can be used to develop an injectable treatment to reduce the pain and disability caused by osteoarthritis,” Silman added.
The study has been published online in the journal Science.