NIH study shows promise in preventing osteoarthritis
An NIH-funded study from MIT suggests that a commonly used steroid drug used to treat inflammation may also help prevent osteoarthritis.
Balintfy: Arthritis is a large and growing public health problem, and continues to be the most common cause of disability in the United States.
Grodzinsky: The word arthritis typically refers to joint disease, but there are many, many forms of arthritis.
Balintfy: Dr. Alan Grodzinsky is an NIH-funded researcher and professor at MIT. He says the most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis.
Grodzinsky: Estimates now are that about 27 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis.
Balintfy: Osteoarthritis occurs most often in older people. Yet younger people sometimes get osteoarthritis, primarily from joint injuries. This type of arthritis breaks down cartilage.
Grodzinsky: That's a soft kind of resilient tissue that covers the bony ends of our joints.
Balintfy: Healthy cartilage absorbs the shock of movement. Without it, bones rub together. Over time, this rubbing can permanently damage the joint. Osteoarthritis causes pain, swelling and reduced motion in joints. Dr. Grodzinsky points out that there are currently no drugs available to treat osteoarthritis, only medications that try to alleviate pain.
Grodzinsky: In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune inflammatory disease and that affects fewer people than osteoarthritis – but it can be very aggressive and debilitating – there have been some terrific drugs discovered over the past 10 to 15 years that can actually halt the progress of disease in 60% to 65% of those patients.
Balintfy: Now a new NIH-funded study at MIT suggests that a steroid drug currently used to treat inflammatory diseases could also prevent osteoarthritis from ever developing in those people who have had a joint injury.
Grodzinsky: The drugs that we've been interested in are a class of drugs called glucocorticoids such as dexamethasone; and these have been used in older patients that have a fairly longstanding disease, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, really to alleviate pain. But we've been pursuing the idea that immediate intervention at the time of injury even in young folks might be able to stop the progression of cartilage degradation right after the injury and that might reduce the risk of developing arthritis.
Balintfy: Grodzinsky explains that experiments in the lab have shown that the steroid drugs stop the break-down of cartilage when given even a day or two after the tissue is damaged.
Grodzinsky: It seems like this could be a very effective approach to treating the cases relatively quickly after injury.
Balintfy: But he emphasizes that more research is needed.
Grodzinsky: We don’t know whether drugs like dexamethasone can actually reverse the cartilage damage that's already occurred.
Balintfy: Grodzinsky adds that further studies will also have to show whether a single treatment shortly after injury would be sufficient or how many treatments would be necessary to maintain the protective effects. But he is optimistic that after further testing, these drugs could be used to prevent osteoarthritis fairly soon.
Grodzinsky: In a sense, it's repositioning or repurposing an existing drug, but using it in a new and different way to try to halt the progress of cartilage degradation leading to osteoarthritis soon after joint injury. The issue here since physicians can already use this drug, it's really a question of identifying whether or not it's possible to use this drug at an early stage.
Balintfy: For more information on this research and arthritis, visit www.niams.nih.gov. This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Joe Balintfy
Sound Bite: Dr. Alan Grodzinsky
Topic: arthritis, osteoarthritis, steroid, cartilage, joint, joint injury, inflammation, pain
Additional Info: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/