National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
What Research Is Being Done on Osteoarthritis? continued...
This technology involves removing cells from a healthy part of
the body and placing them in an area of diseased or damaged tissue to improve
certain body functions. Currently, it is used to treat small traumatic injuries
or defects in cartilage, and, if successful, could eventually help treat
osteoarthritis. Researchers at NIAMS are exploring three types of tissue
engineering. The two most common methods being studied today include cartilage
cell replacement and stem cell transplantation. The third method is gene
Cartilage cell replacement: In this procedure,
researchers remove cartilage cells from the patient’s own joint and then clone
or grow new cells using tissue culture and other laboratory techniques. They
then inject the newly grown cells into the patient’s joint. Patients with
cartilage cell replacement have fewer symptoms of osteoarthritis. Actual
cartilage repair is limited, however.
In one area of research, scientists are testing fibroblastic
cells (precursors to cells that make up components of connective tissue) for
their ability to differentiate into cartilage cells in a lab dish. The
researchers will then see if the resulting cartilage cells can form functional
Stem cell transplantation: Stem cells are
primitive cells that can transform into other kinds of cells, such as muscle or
bone cells. They usually are taken from bone marrow. In the future, researchers
hope to insert stem cells into cartilage, where the cells will make new
cartilage. If successful, this process could be used to repair early cartilage
damage and avoid the need for surgical joint replacements later in life.
Gene therapy: Scientists are working to
genetically engineer cells that would inhibit certain enzymes that may help
break down cartilage and cause joint damage. In gene therapy, cells are removed
from the body, genetically changed, and then injected back into the affected
joint. They reside in the joint and secrete substances that inhibit the
Effective treatment for osteoarthritis takes more than medicine
or surgery. Getting help from a variety of health care professionals often can
improve patient treatment and self-care. (See “Who Treats Osteoarthritis?”)
Research shows that adding patient education and social support is a low-cost,
effective way to decrease pain and reduce the amount of medicine used. One
NIAMS-funded project involves developing and testing an interactive Web site by
which health professionals and patients could communicate concerning
appointments and treatment instructions, thus giving patients a greater role in
and control of their care.
Exercise and weight reduction
Exercise plays a key part in a comprehensive treatment plan.
Researchers are studying exercise in greater detail and finding out just how to
use it in treating or preventing osteoarthritis. For example, several
scientists have studied knee osteoarthritis and exercise. Their results
included the following:
- Walking can result in better functioning, and the more you walk, the
farther you will be able to walk.
- People with knee osteoarthritis who are active in an exercise program feel
less pain. They also function better.