Osteoarthritis is one of the most common degenerative health conditions around the globe. It is caused by inflammation in the joint which eventually leads to breakdown and loss of the cartilage. It is also called osteoarthrosis and degenerative joint disease.
OA is a progressive disease. This means it worsens over time. Around 10 percent of the men and 13 percent of the women over the age of 60 have symptoms of degenerative arthritis. As of now, there is no proper cure for the condition. Treatments are only available for managing the signs.
However, a new advancement in nanotechnology has given a new hope. With this new innovative approach, the previously used therapeutic treatment may work better. It may reach deeper areas of the affected joint and have longer effects.
Degenerative arthritis affects more than 30 million men and women in the United States alone. The new technology can improve the lives of many people.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Cartilage is a soft and elastic substance that is present in the joints. It is actually far more sensitive and softer than the bone itself. The main function of cartilage is to safeguard the ends of the bones in a joint. It also allows the bones with move easily and with flexibility.
When the cartilage is damaged in osteoarthritis, it becomes difficult for the bones to move in sync properly. The surface of the ends of the bones becomes uneven and also rough. This leads to pain in the joints as well as the tissues around it.
Since the cartilage does not have any blood vessels in it, it is unable to repair itself from any sort of damage. This includes the wear and tear in degenerative arthritis.
If OA is left untreated, the cartilage is destroyed completely. Without the cartilage, the flexibility of the joint is gone and the ends of the bone come in contact. This can cause unbearable pain in the joint when it is involved in any kind of movement.
A person with osteoarthritis may find it very hard to do normal movements ever again. For example, someone with degenerative arthritis in the knees may not ever be able to walk again if the condition is not managed on time.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
The cause of osteoarthritis varies from one person to another. The condition is most common in older adults – especially those who have crossed the age of 60. This is because damage may occur in the joints and in the cartilage over time.
The damage worsens over time and develops into degenerative arthritis. This is why age is considered a huge risk factor in osteoarthritis. However, there are also many other causes of the condition.
In addition to older adults, other people may also experience symptoms of osteoarthritis. Younger people can have osteoarthritis due to many reasons including accidents and injuries to the joints from any sort of activity.
Injuries to the joints and cartilage that may develop into wear-and-tear arthritis are:
- Ligament injuries
- Torn cartilage
- Dislocated joints
Secondly, many other factors may also contribute to the risk of having the condition. Younger adults with malformation and poor posture are at a higher risk of osteoarthritis.
What Are The Risk Factors?
People with poor dietary and general health have more chances of having complications including osteoarthritis. This especially includes obese people with poor eating habits. The heavier a person is, the higher is the pressure on the joints. Extra weight can damage the joints more than one can imagine.
In addition, excessive pressure on the joints may also come from other activities. Playing sports can also result in a damaged cartilage, specifically the ones that require a lot of running. For example, football, hockey, and lacrosse. The risk of having injuries leading to arthritis is also increased when playing sports.
There are also some factors that are not in control of one’s hands, such as genetics. Even though researchers have not been able to discover the specific gene that may cause arthritis, they agree that osteoarthritis runs in families. If one has sibling, parents, and grandparents with arthritis, they are also likely to develop it sometime in life.
In a similar way, age is a thing one cannot control. As a person ages, his/her chances of developing osteoarthritis increase. The gradual buildup of damage in the joints starts damaging the cartilage. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of the adults have arthritis.
Lastly, certain types of jobs and professions may place one at a higher risk of osteoarthritis. Repetitive actions such as going up/down the stairs, lifting, or anything that affects your posture can damage the joints. Examples include construction-related jobs, trainers and a number of others.
How Can a New Technology Help?
Currently, there is no proper treatment for osteoarthritis. This is a big problem considering the obesity levels are going up and a big part of the population is growing older. Moreover, the previous treatment options are also said to cause an opioid addiction crisis.
In a time like this, an innovative treatment option is a need. To solve this issue, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge studied ways in which nanotechnology can help. They looked at how it may improve the performance of the drugs used in the treatment.
The findings of their study were published in the journal Translational Medicine. The main idea put forward in the study is the drugs for osteoarthritis are not as effective because of lack of proper drug delivery.
To solve this issue, the researchers looked for a way to keep the drug in the affected joints for a longer time and also making a way for it to reach the cells directly. The medication used in the trials was insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).
How Was the Research Done?
The researchers developed a nanoscale spherical molecule that could carry IGF-1. The researchers attached the IGF-1 molecules to the spherical molecules and injected it to the joints of rats.
The scientists noted that the IGF-1 molecules stayed for a much longer time when attached to the spherical molecule. Comparatively, the hybrid molecules had a ten times longer lifespan than the IGF-1 molecule alone.
In addition, the effects of the former also lasted for 30 days. The tested rats showed a reduction in joint damage along with decreased inflammation. Now, a common question here is whether it would show the same results in humans.
The cartilage is humans is thicker in comparison with a rat’s cartilage. The researchers also got rid of this hurdle with a separate experiment. It showed that the hybrid molecules are able to pass through a thickness similar to that of a human cartilage.
Read an editorial on the study here.
What Are the Future Prospects?
According to the researchers, this is only the initial stage of their research regarding the hybrid molecule. Using the same technique, they also plan on studying various other chemicals including nucleic acids like DNA and RNA. In addition, drugs that stop inflammatory cytokines are also on the list.
Overall, the results and conclusion of the study have been highly promising. It is said that the future developments on it may even enable health professionals to slow down the progression of osteoarthritis with the use of injections given once in a fortnight or a month.