UK Scientists Optimistic About Developing Effective Arthritis Treatment

A team of scientists at the University of Manchester are hopeful that an exciting new research project could lead to an effective new treatment for the millions of people who suffer from osteoarthritis.

The team at the School of Biological Science believe they can slow down or possibly even prevent the development of osteoarthritis by developing a targeted gene therapy over the next five years. If their approach is successful, it could lead to clinical trials on patients within the next decade.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and a degenerative form of joint disease for which there is no cure, and no effective treatment. The number of people with the condition is rising as the population ages and becomes more overweight.

“We’re very optimistic. We’ve been working towards this for about ten years now, and we’re at the point where we can talk about developing treatment,” explains Dr Gillian Wallis, a senior lecturer in medicine, who together with Dr Ray Boot-Hanford, a reader in molecular biology, is leading the research program.

“Obviously we are still very much at the research stage, but if all our laboratory experiments work out then we hope to translate the results directly into clinical practice. We would hope to be looking at clinical trials on patients within ten years.”

Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage, the smooth surface between the ends of bones wears away, leaving bone rubbing against bone, and often leading to the growth of extra bony spurs around the joints.As part of this process, known as endochondral ossification, cells called chondrocytes, which produce cartilage, change and become unable to maintain the cartilage. The cartilage becomes more damaged, leading to joint destruction.

The Manchester team intends to develop ways of delaying or preventing these changes in the chondrocytes and to slow down or even stop the progression of osteoarthritis by developing a type of gene therapy.

“We’re confident that we will find effective target genes, which we then plan to introduce into joints using carrier viruses,” explained Dr Wallis.

The only currently available treatment for osteoarthritis are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which alleviate symptoms but do not affect disease progression. However, many OA patients cannot tolerate these drugs because of side effects, particularly stomach problems.

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