A new injection is being developed that could ease the pain of arthritis for millions of people and even cut down on the need for hip and knee replacement surgeries. The treatment uses a protein that boosts the generation of cartilage in the body and reduces inflammation in the joints.
It could potentially save the NHS £1 billion annually and put an end to the pain suffered by arthritis patients, especially the elderly. Scientists from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles are hopeful about the potential to ease symptoms.
Dr Denis Evseenko, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery and author of the study, said: “The goal is to make an injectable therapy for an early to moderate level of arthritis.”
Osteoarthritis affects more than eight million people in the UK alone. It is caused by the thinning of the cartilage and leads to stiffness and pain in the joints. The development of the new injection is now at the stage where it can undergo trials in the hope it will make it to market.
The drugs currently available only work to relieve the pain, as opposed to tackling the root cause of the osteoarthritis. They also have side effects that range from high blood pressure and stomach ulcers to strokes.
Other inflammatory disorders could also be treated with the jab, meaning those with rheumatoid arthritis could also benefit. For the drug to work, the molecules must be injected directly into the joint, where it can start to repair the damage.
The treatment should not be viewed as a cure for arthritis, Dr Evseenko stressed, however, he believes it would delay the progression of arthritis to the damaging stages where patients need joint replacements, which account for one million surgeries a year in the US.
The current rate of hip and knee replacement surgeries being carried out on the NHS in England and Wales is 160,000 annually. It rises by around eight per cent each year, as the population gets older, making it an increasingly pressing issue.
Scientists have named the new molecule RCGD 423, which stands for regulator of cartilage growth and differentiation. It regenerates cartilage and reduces inflammation by communicating with another molecule, which is called glycoprotein 130 or GP130 for short.
Since GP130 is responsible for promoting cartilage development when a person is an embryo and triggering inflammation as they age, manipulating it can offer the desired effects. Administering RCGD 423 makes the GP130 receptor more open to receiving cartilage regeneration signals.
Dr Evseenko believes that RCGD 423 could be the basis for a new type of drug with wide ranging uses. Lupus, neurological conditions, heart disease and baldness could all come under the spotlight as research into the molecule continues.
The groundwork for clinical trials is currently being put in place. Once that is completed, tests to discover the potential of RCGD 423 can be carried out, but it represents hope for those living with arthritis and the population as a whole as it ages.