Early-stage research has found that a new gene therapy can nearly eliminate arthritis pain, and significantly reduce long-term damage to the affected joints, according to a study published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism. While the study was done in mice, they are the first genetically engineered to develop osteoarthritis like humans, with the same genetic predisposition that makes some more likely to develop the disease, the authors said. If all goes well with a follow-up study currently underway, researchers will apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permission to begin human trials next year.
Nearly everyone aged 65 or older suffers from the pain, swelling and permanent joint damage of osteoarthritis. The most common form of arthritis, it develops over time following initial joint injuries or just as a result of aging. In the current study, researchers found that one injection of a newly designed gene therapy relieved 100 percent of osteoarthritic pain in the study model. In addition, researchers were surprised to find that the therapy also brought about a nearly 35 percent reduction in permanent structural to joints caused by round and after round of osteoarthritic inflammation.
To date, treatment of arthritis is dominated by drug treatments like non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs, COX-2 inhibitors and acetominophen. Morphine and its derivatives are still in common use as well, but can depress breathing and lead to addiction. Taken together, current treatments deliver inconsistent results and new approaches are needed, researcher said. Gene therapy has been attempted in the past, but older, invasive techniques required that therapeutic genes be injected directly into nerve cells. Strong pain relief resulted, but in some cases the injections caused nerve damage.
"Our publication represents the first proof that gene therapy can work in a way that is clinically applicable," said Stephanos Kyrkanides, D.D.S., Ph.D., associate professor of Dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "This therapy can simply be injected anywhere in an injured joint, and the treatment will find the nerve endings," said Kyrkanides, whose work on genetics in dentistry led to broader applications. The common ground between arthritis and dentistry: a common site of arthritic pain is the jaw joint.