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Newfound blood biomarkers may foretell osteoarthritis progression
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Newfound blood biomarkers may foretell osteoarthritis progression

The identification of biomarkers in blood could pave the path for the development of improved treatments for osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis
Representational image| Shutterstock

Researchers at Duke University in the US have identified blood biomarkers that can be used as indicators to track the progression of osteoarthritis (OA).  

The new blood test could be important for advancing the development of future therapies and management of the age-related condition. 

The test allows doctors to identify the right people to enroll in clinical trials that aim to develop drugs to manage and treat OA. Currently this is a very difficult task, given the problem of predicting how OA progresses. 

Osteoarthritis is one the most common forms of arthritis in which the cartilage, the protective substance that acts as a cushion between two bones, wears out over time. The condition largely affects the joints in the hands, spine knees and hips, causing pain, stiffness and loss of flexibility. 

“Because cartilage has no nerves, it can deteriorate in the absence of pain. We need better ways to identify the joint degeneration as early and as accurately as possible,” says Virginia Byers Kraus, a professor in the Department of Medicine, Pathology and Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University School of Medicine and senior author of a study, in an email interaction with Happiest Health. 

Access at a lower cost 

The new and improved prediction paves the way for developing a blood test using these biomarkers, thereby making treatments available to those needing it the most.  

“In the immediate future, this will decrease the cost of OA clinical trials and improve the chances of trial success by providing a cost-effective measure such as a blood test for screening people most likely to progress during the trial” adds Dr Kraus. 

A chicken and egg scene 

Osteoarthritis is considered to be the most frequent joint disease affecting Indian populations. Currently there is no lasting remedy for the condition. Its symptoms of pain and stiffness are managed by staying active and receiving treatments that slow the degeneration of the cartilage between joints. 

The development of therapies to treat osteoarthritis has been a stumbling block for researchers, something that Dr Kraus describes as a chicken-and-egg predicament. 

“The use of biomarkers during development of treatments increases the chance of regulatory approval of the drug [the chicken]. But to have biomarkers to predict who should get a particular drug requires having effective drugs [the egg],” says Dr Kraus. 

Finding the biomarkers  

Dr Kraus and her colleagues worked on finding a set of biomarkers that can be used as a tell-tale sign of a progressing OA. 

In a cohort of 596 people with knee arthritis, they identified a set of 13 blood biomarkers that corresponded to OA progression. In addition to traditional predictors such as age, sex, X-rays, and knee pain score, the new set of biomarkers was a good indicator of OA progression with a 74 per cent success rate – which is an improvement from the 60 per cent predictive success with traditional markers. 

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