London: A drug commonly used to strengthen brittle bones could also help keep arthritis at bay, researchers claim.
There is currently no cure for arthritis, which causes inflammation of the joints and bones, and treatments are aimed at simply easing the pain it causes.
But, researchers at the the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York found that the osteoporosis drug, teriparatide, thickened damaged knee joints by almost a third in laboratory tests.
This, they said, has raised hopes that it could also be used to treat osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, the Daily Mail reported.
Osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown of cartilage that helps our joints take the strain of bending, lifting, gripping and kneeling, and affects millions of people worldwide.
Existing drugs simply ease pain of bone rubbing on bone. They do nothing to slow the course of the condition and some raise the odds of heart attacks and strokes.
Hip or knee replacement surgery can improve quality of life in patients but it is a complicated and lengthy process and is not successful in every case.
In experiments on mice, the Rochester team found that when teriparatide was given every day for a month, the injured cartilage of treated mice became about 32 per cent thicker compared to other animals.
In addition, the production of genes and molecules associated with the degeneration of cartilage was suppressed, raising hopes that the drug could eventually be used to combat arthritis in humans, the researchers reported in the Science Translational Medicine.
Dr Michael Zuscik, who co-authored the study, said: "We believe that a potential alternative to this cycle of pain and reduced quality of life has gone unnoticed for the past decade.
"Our experimental findings make a compelling case for further clinical study of this drug in the context of arthritis."
Further studies, including proper trials of those with arthritis, could lead to the drug being approved to treat arthritis as well as osteoporosis, the researchers said.
However, they stressed that the safety of long-term use of the drug would have to be assessed, as there are concerns that it raises the odds of bone cancer mean that use in osteoporosis is limited to two years in total.
Professor Phil Conaghan, of Arthritis Research UK, said: "We welcome anything that helps to treat osteoarthritis and that reduces the pain and suffering of the six million people in the UK that are affected by this debilitating condition.
"However, we need to sound a big note of caution, as animal models of osteoarthritis are not like humans with osteoarthritis, and many agents that have worked and looked very promising in animals have not worked in human trials."