New hope for OA sufferers

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the degeneration of cartilage and other tissues in joints and is said to be the most common form of arthritis in Australia.

Often referred to as a ‘wear and tear’ condition, OA is a long-term and progressive condition that affects people’s mobility.

Risk factors for OA, that may contribute to the progression of the health condition, include:

  • Ageing.
  • Obesity.
  • Injury.
  • Family history.

Up until now current OA treatment options manage symptoms rather than addressing the underlying disease, but a new University of Adelaide study has shown the condition may be treatable and reversible.

University of Adelaide researchers discovered a novel population of stem cells – marked by the Gremlin 1 gene – responsible for the progression of osteoarthritis.

The study involved treatment with fibroblast growth factor 18 (FGF18), which stimulated the proliferation of Gremlin 1 cells in joint cartilage in mice, leading to significant recovery of cartilage thickness and reduced osteoarthritis.

The researchers believe Gremlin 1 cells present opportunities for cartilage regeneration and their discovery will have relevance to other forms of cartilage injury and disease, which are notoriously challenging to repair and treat.

“The findings of our study reimagine osteoarthritis not as a ‘wear and tear’ condition but as an active, and pharmaceutically reversible loss of critical articular cartilage stem cells,” says the University of Adelaide’s Dr Jia Ng from the Adelaide Medical School, who co-led the study.

“With this new information, we are now able to explore pharmaceutical options to directly target the stem cell population that is responsible for the development of articular cartilage and progression of osteoarthritis.”

While Dr Ng describes current treatments for osteoarthritis as a “band-aid approach”, this new understanding could lead to a pharmaceutical treatment that reverses osteoarthritis and helps to address health outcomes associated with the disease.

“Our study suggests that there may be new ways to treat the disease rather than just the symptoms, leading to better health outcomes and quality of life for people who suffer from osteoarthritis,” says Dr Ng.

For more information, visit: nature.com/articles/s41467-023-42199-1

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