Huge scientific breakthrough raises hopes of cure for crippling arthritis

Crippling arthritis could one day be ‘cured’ after scientists discovered a type of cell that could regenerate decayed cartilage around bones and joints.

Researchers have discovered a stem cell which they hope will allow them to re-strengthen cartilage and even reverse the painful condition.

Osteoarthritis is caused by the deterioration of cartilage and other tissues in joints which can cause pain and inflammation. It is the most common form of arthritis in the UK with around 10 million people impacted, according to the NHS.

Current treatments for osteoarthritis are often taken on a “band aid approach”, and manages symptoms rather than addressing the underlying causes.

The condition often develops in adults in their late 40s or older, but it can occur at any age due to injury.

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It is a long-term and progressive condition which affects people’s mobility and has historically had no cure. Factors such as ageing, obesity, injury and family history can contribute to the progression of osteoarthritis.

Researchers at University of Adelaide, South Australia, hope that their new findings can turn the tide against the condition.

Dr Jia Ng of Adelaide Medical School, and who co-led the study, said: “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.

“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.”

During their research, scientists at University of Adelaide discovered a new population of stem cells, marked by the Gremlin 1 gene, responsible for the progression of osteoarthritis.

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

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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.

Dr Ng added: “Known comorbidities of osteoarthritis include heart, pulmonary, and kidney disease, mental and behavioural conditions, diabetes, and cancer.

“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.

Though this discovery is limited to animal models, Dr Ng said there are genetic similarities to human samples, and human trials are ongoing.

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