Crippling arthritis could one day be “cured” after scientists discovered a type of cell that can regenerate decayed cartilage around bones and joints.
Researchers have discovered a stem cell that they hope will allow them to strengthen cartilage and even reverse painful conditions.
Osteoarthritis is caused by the deterioration of cartilage and other tissues in the joints, which can cause pain and inflammation. It is the most common form of arthritis in the UK, with around 10 million people affected, according to the NHS.
Current treatments for osteoarthritis often take a “Band-Aid approach” and manage symptoms rather than addressing the underlying causes.
The disease often develops in adults in their late 40s or older, but it can occur at any age due to injury.
It is a progressive, long-term disease that affects people’s mobility and historically has no cure. Factors such as aging, obesity, injuries and family history can contribute to the progression of osteoarthritis.
Researchers at the University of Adelaide in South Australia hope their new findings can reverse the trend.
Dr Jia Ng, from the Adelaide Medical School, who co-led the study, said: “Our study results reimagine osteoarthritis not as a disease of wear and tear, but as a loss active and pharmaceutically reversible critical articular cartilage stem cells. .
“With this new information, we are now able to explore pharmaceutical options to directly target the stem cell population responsible for the development of articular cartilage and the progression of osteoarthritis.”
During their research, scientists from the 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 articular cartilage in mice, leading to significant recovery of cartilage thickness and reduction of osteoarthritis.
Gremlin 1 cells present opportunities for cartilage regeneration and their discovery will be relevant to other forms of cartilage damage and disease, which are notoriously difficult to repair and treat.
Dr Ng added: “Known comorbidities of osteoarthritis include heart, lung and kidney diseases, mental and behavioral disorders, 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 with osteoarthritis.
Although this finding is limited to animal models, Dr Ng said there are genetic similarities with human samples and human trials are underway.