Discovery of DNA sections responsible for osteoarthritis raises hope of treatment for millions affected by crippling illnessBreakthrough made by researchers at the University of NewcastleAround 8.5million Britons suffer from osteoarthritis
01:08 GMT, 3 July 2012
A breakthrough by British scientists could lead to new treatments for the most common form of arthritis.
Researchers have discovered eight sections of our DNA that are responsible for osteoarthritis, the crippling incurable condition that affects millions.
Crucially, they think that at least two or three of these so-called ‘genetic regions’ could be used to treat the illness.
The research, carried out by scientists at the University of Newcastle, could lead to new treatment for thousands of arthritis sufferers
They all contain genes responsible for the production of cartilage, the tissue between bones that is damaged by osteoarthritis.
The scientists from the University of Newcastle believe that in future they could alter patients’ genes to make them produce stronger cartilage, helping to repair the damaged joints.
Around 8.5million Britons suffer from osteoarthritis and it is believed to affect as many as 40 per cent of the over-70s. It causes debilitating joint pain – particularly in the hips and knees – and often leaves patients immobile or unable to walk long distances.
At present there is no cure and patients can only alleviate their symptoms with drugs, physiotherapy or in severe cases through surgery to remove the affected joint.
The study, published in the Lancet, looked at 7,400 patients with osteoarthritis and compared their DNA to 11,000 people without the disease.
The team found eight sections of our DNA that are responsible for osteoarthritis
Although the authors acknowledge that it will be at least five or ten years before they are close to a treatment, they say the findings are an important ‘first step’.
Professor John Loughlin, who led the research, said: ‘We’ve identified eight regions of human genomes that increase the risk of the disease.
‘We would dearly like to use the information gathered to enable patients’ cells to be modified to ensure they make better cartilage. But it’s a long way off.
Our results don’t enable us to do that at this point and it’s not something that anybody who has got the disease now can hope for.
‘It’s a major breakthrough, the largest study of its kind performed in this world to date.
‘We’re trying to work out now exactly what these genes are doing and what is going wrong.’
He said it was not possible yet to use their findings to carry out genetic tests to predict who was more at risk from the illness.
Scientists have known for many years that osteoarthritis runs in families. But until now they knew of only three genetic regions that increased the risk of the illness. They have now identified a further eight.
Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said: ‘There is no cure for osteoarthritis yet it affects millions of people around the world.
‘For 60 years we have known that you are twice as likely to have osteoarthritis if your parents have the disease, yet we haven’t known why.
‘Until we understand the cause of this complex disease, we cannot hope to find a cure.
‘This is a major breakthrough in our understanding of osteoarthritis which we hope will help us to unlock the genetic basis of the disease.’
Osteoarthritis is notoriously difficult to diagnose, with patients waiting an average of almost three years to be diagnosed and referred for treatment, according to a recent report by Arthritis Care.
The number of Britons suffering from the crippling condition is expected to double over the next 20 years due to the ageing population and higher levels of obesity, reaching 17million by 2030, according to the charity.
A third of sufferers are forced to retire early or substantially reduce the numbers of hours they work, because of the condition.
It is estimated to cost the economy 3.2billion in lost working time.