New research, published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, shows that an innovative blocking agent can stop the degeneration of the cartilage when injected into the joints.
Osteoarthritis is a progressive condition that affects the bones and cartilage within the joints.
Although it occurs most often in the hands, hips, and knees, osteoarthritis can also affect the body's spine.
While there are a variety of ways in which people can manage this long-term, chronic condition, there is currently no cure for it.
However, scientists may have now found a treatment that promises to stop the disease from progressing. The researchers started by focusing on a molecule that they previously found to cause inflammation, break down the cartilage, and deplete the body of collagen.
In the new study, the scientists developed a compound that blocks this molecule. Mohit Kapoor, Ph.D., arthritis research director at the University Health Network in Toronto, Canada, and senior scientist at the Krembil Research Institute, also in Toronto, led the team.
'Discovery could be a game changer'
Kapoor and his colleagues have recently discovered that a molecule called microRNA-181a-5p has a "critical" role in the destruction of the joints.
In the present study, the team wanted to see if a blocking agent can counter this damaging molecule.
So, the researchers tested the therapeutic potential of so-called locked nucleic acid-antisense oligonucleotides (LNA-ASO) in rats, rodents, cell cultures, and tissue samples from people with knee and spine osteoarthritis.
More specifically, they tested the effects of a blocker called "LNA-miR-181a-5p ASO" and found it to be effective.
"In this study," write the authors, "we provide the first evidence that intra-articular injection of in vivo grade LNA-miR-181a-5p ASO can attenuate cartilage degeneration in preclinical models of [facet joint] and knee [osteoarthritis]."
Dr. Akihiro Nakamura, the first author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher in the Kapoor laboratory, explains the results of the experiments.
"The blocker is based on antisense technology. When you inject this blocker into the joints, it blocks the destructive activity caused by microRNA-181-5p and stops cartilage degeneration," says Dr. Nakamura.
"The blocker we've tested is disease-modifying," explains Kapoor. "It has the ability to prevent further joint destruction in both knee and spine."
"This is important because there are currently no drugs or treatments available to patients that can stop osteoarthritis," continues the senior scientist.
"Current treatments for osteoarthritis address the symptoms, such as pain, but are unable to stop the progression of the disease," he adds.
Study co-author Dr. Raja Rampersaud, who is also an orthopedic spine surgeon, comments on the findings, saying, "The technology in osteoarthritis is in its infancy, but the research has now taken a big step forward."
Soon, the team plans to start safety studies and human clinical trials. If the researchers find the right dosage and a way to inject the blocker straight into the joints, the findings will provide a valid treatment that can stop the disease from progressing.
"If we are able to develop a safe and effective injection for patients, this discovery could be a game changer."
Dr. Raja Rampersaud