Around 8.75 million people in the UK are being treated for osteoarthritis, at a cost to the health service of around £5.2 billion. One in five people over the age of 45 has osteoarthritis of the knee and 68% of people with osteoarthritis say they experience depression when the pain is at its worst.
But new research from KU Leuven research university in Belgium suggests that a simple antioxidant might help to prevent cartilage damage caused by osteoarthritis.
With progressive loss of joint cartilage being responsible for the development and pain of osteoarthritis, this could have a life-changing impact on people with the condition.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is sometimes called wear and tear arthritis as it is linked to overuse of the joints, injury and ageing. Being overweight can also be a contributory factor and certain genetic traits are likely to make you more susceptible.
The condition causes cartilage in the joints to steadily wear away producing pain, swelling and stiffness of the joint. It most often affects the hips, knees, hands, feet and spine. Scientists are unsure if cartilage in the joint can be made to regenerate and what the mechanisms are underpinning the process.
Latest research into the treatment of osteoarthritis
Researchers at KU Leuven looked at the cellular changes that take place in osteoarthritis and the interactions between different cell proteins. They were interested to explore the role of ANP32A, which is a protein that is involved in intracellular transport and cell differentiation.
In humans and mice with osteoarthritis, there were significantly lower levels of ANP32A in tissue samples. The researchers used mice that are incapable of producing the protein ANP32A causing them to develop osteoarthritis as well as osteopenia or bone loss. These mice showed a lack of coordination and a tendency to stumble, and the researchers concluded that the ANP32A protein prevents oxidative stress in the articular cartilage, helping to protect against the development of osteoarthritis.
They added an antioxidant called N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) to the mice’s drinking water and found that this reduced the symptoms of osteoarthritis and appeared to halt cartilage damage.
The researchers looked at why ANP32A might have an effect on symptoms and discovered that it increases the level of an enzyme known as ATM. This enzyme has a key role in regulating the defensive responses of cells to oxidative stress. So, the loss of ANP32A means there is less ATM available to mop up the free radicals responsible for cartilage damage.
The researchers were excited by their findings as they believe they…
“…may have therapeutic implications not only in chronic joint disorders but also in bone diseases.”
They warn against an expectation of an immediate cure for osteoarthritis, however, pointing out that molecular interaction is likely to be only one of the mechanisms involved in osteoarthritis. The researchers plan to carry out further research into other factors that contribute to the production of ANP32A in cartilage.
If you are affected by osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, which is a form of the disease caused by the body’s immune response, there is a range of treatments to help you to manage the symptoms, including pain-relieving injections, medication and partial or total joint replacement.
Contact our specialist team for more details.