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A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia suggests that there could be potential treatments for, and even reversibility of, osteoarthritis. This discovery represents a notable advancement in the domain of osteoarthritis research.

Osteoarthritis is a “wear and tear” condition

Osteoarthritis, a widespread form of arthritis, involves joint cartilage and tissue degeneration. Treatment mainly focuses on symptom relief rather than the root cause. In Australia, it incurred $3.9 billion in healthcare expenses in 2019-2020, and in the US, arthritis-related medical costs were estimated at $140 billion in 2013.

The condition is commonly referred to as a “wear and tear” condition, and it is affected by various factors, including aging, obesity, family history, and injuries.

Researchers in this study have discovered a specific group of stem cells marked by the Gremlin 1 gene, which is essential in the development of osteoarthritis. When these cells were exposed to fibroblast growth factor 18 (FGF18), they promoted the growth of Gremlin 1 cells in mouse joint cartilage. This resulted in a significant increase in cartilage thickness and a decrease in osteoarthritis symptoms, offering potential for innovative osteoarthritis treatment.

In this study, the researchers propose a novel perspective on osteoarthritis. They suggest that it is not merely a result of wear and tear, but rather a process involving the active and pharmaceutically treatable loss of essential articular cartilage stem cells. Dr. Jia Ng, a co-author of the study, highlights the potential to develop pharmaceutical interventions that specifically target these stem cells responsible for articular cartilage development and osteoarthritis progression.

Current osteoarthritis treatments manage symptoms only

Existing osteoarthritis treatments are often criticized for only managing symptoms, likened to a temporary “Band-Aid approach.” Nevertheless, a recent breakthrough may open the door to pharmaceutical therapies that can potentially reverse osteoarthritis and enhance overall health outcomes linked to the condition.

According to Dr. Ng. osteoarthritis is associated with various comorbidities, such as pulmonary, heart, and kidney disease, diabetes, mental and behavioural conditions, and cancer. The study proposes the potential for novel treatment approaches beyond symptom management, aiming to improve the overall health and quality of life for individuals with osteoarthritis.