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Researchers given £1m to learn more about osteoarthritis


Researchers at Newcastle University have been awarded £1m to continue the hunt for the genes that cause osteoarthritis.

The team – led by Professor John Loughlin and Dr Louise Reynard of Newcastle University - has received a five-year grant from Arthritis Research UK to identify the genetic changes which contribute most to osteoarthritis joint damage.

Building on the team’s previous studies into the genetic causes of the disease, the group will use a new type of ‘gene editing’ technology to remove the harmful genetic changes from cells in the joint which are responsible for producing weaker cartilage in people with the condition.

They will compare the cartilage formed by these cells in the lab to see whether replacing these harmful genetic changes with the ‘healthy’ version of the DNA leads to the creation of stronger cartilage.

Professor Loughlin (pictured), an expert in musculoskeletal research, said: "Ultimately we hope to be able to reintroduce these new healthy cells into the joints of people with arthritis to encourage the body to replace damaged cartilage with new, osteoarthritis-resistant cartilage, improving joint function and preventing progression of disease.”

Osteoarthritis is a potentially crippling joint condition that affects 8.75 million people in the UK, and is caused by the degeneration of cartilage, the lubricating substance at the end of bones. Treatment is currently limited to pain relief, self-management and joint replacement.

About 50% of an individual’s risk of developing osteoarthritis is due to inherited genetic changes to the DNA sequence in the body, which can affect the way that the cartilage functions and repairs itself, leading to the onset of the disease.

The arcOGEN consortium managed to triple the number of genetic regions which are thought to be related to the risk of developing osteoarthritis. Their findings were hailed a major breakthrough when published in The Lancet in 2012.

The next step is to investigate the 12 known osteoarthritis risk regions in more detail and pinpoint the exact DNA sequence changes which are associated with an increased risk of disease.

Dr Stephen Simpson, director of research and programmes at Arthritis Research said: “This exciting work is one of the first examples in the field of musculoskeletal disease of using information from large genetic studies to amend an individual’s genetic sequence to treat disease.

“Previous use of gene editing in patient treatment for diseases, such as sickle cell anaemia, have been highly successful and therefore this new method has great potential for treating, and perhaps one day evening preventing, osteoarthritis.”

Press release adapted with thanks from Arthritis Research UK

published on: 13 July 2015