Breakthroughs may be a game changer for osteo sufferers

Two trials conducted in the US and Australia may provide hope for sufferers of knee osteoarthritis. The separate studies have indicated that it may be possible to regrow cartilage in the knee, reversing the effects of the debilitating condition, and that a treatment used to manage cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol may help protect against knee damage.

For those who suffer from painful joints and other debilitating effects of osteoarthritis of the knee, treatment may soon be available in an unexpected form – piezoelectricity.

If the term ‘piezo’ seems familiar, it’s probably because you have used a piezo ignition gun to light your camp stove or pressed the piezo ignition button on your gas stove at home, which creates the spark that ignites the burners

Read: When to see a doctor about joint pain

But what does that have to do with treating osteoarthritis? In the hunt for an effective treatment, bioengineers in the US have developed a device that may be able to regrow cartilage, the loss of which is at heart of osteoarthritis of the knee.

As we age, the cartilage that acts as a cushion in our joints can break down. An acute loss of this cartilage can result in ‘bone-on-bone’ rubbing, resulting in significant knee pain, even when walking.

Regrowing that cartilage has, until now, been the stuff of science fiction, but University of Connecticut bioengineers have demonstrated that electrical current may hold the key to promoting cartilage growth.

Will you be able to repair your knees with a piezo gun?
Not quite, and certainly not yet. The new device, which creates a ‘scaffold’ on which new cartilage can grow, is still in the early phase of development, and has so far been tested only on rabbits. The scaffold comprises nanofibres made from the biodegradable polymer, often used to stitch up surgical wounds.

Read: Lower your risk of osteoarthritis

When squeezed, usually via some form of exercise – in the case of rabbits, via walking or hopping – these nanofibres produce a mild electrical current, which stimulates the regrowth of cartilage.

The results have been encouraging, but the tests will need to be carried out on larger animals before human trials can begin.

What is the link between cholesterol and osteoarthritis in the knee?
While weight loss and physiotherapeutic exercise can help alleviate the symptoms of knee osteoarthritis, there are no treatments available to slow the progression of the condition.

That may be about to change, though, according to a new study conducted by Monash University in Melbourne. Rheumatologist Professor Flavia Cicuttini, from the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, says that statins, commonly used in the management of cardiovascular disease, may also provide a benefit to knees by protecting them from knee joint damage.

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Statins work by lowering cholesterol levels, and previous research carried out at the Queensland University of Technology has indicated that a drug derived from omega-3 fatty acids (used to help lower cholesterol) can reduce osteoarthritis inflammation caused by a high-fat diet.

Study co-author Dr Indira Prasadam, from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, said that a drug known as resolvin D1 (RvD1), derived from omega-3 fatty acids, is a natural and safe drug to consider for treatment. “Our results provide new evidence for targeted therapies to reduce inflammation in people who have metabolic osteoarthritis that is associated with a high-fat diet,” she says.

Do you suffer from joint pain? Have you found an effective treatment? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

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Written by Andrew Gigacz