Jumping For Joy? Gene Therapy shows promise in Osteoarthritis

osteoarthritis-knee-pain-ssAs regular readers of SRxA’s Word on Health know, your blogger is one of the estimated 34 million US adults who suffer from osteoarthritis.  The disease, the most common form of arthritis, is characterized by degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint as well as bony overgrowth. The breakdown of these tissues eventually leads to pain and joint stiffness. Disease onset is gradual and usually begins after the age of 40, although in some people, myself included, signs and symptoms can appear in your teens or twenties, usually as a result of the wear and tear of repeated sports injuries.

The joints most commonly affected are the knees, hips, hands and spine.

The specific causes of osteoarthritis are unknown, but are believed to be a result of both mechanical and molecular events in the affected joint. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and improving function, and can include a combination physical therapy, weight control, medications and joint replacement surgery. But there is currently no cure.

osteoarthritis-276x300So we were very interested to hear of a new study in mice in which researchers used gene therapy to reduce the risk of osteoarthritis.

And while there’s no way to know if the gene therapy treatment will help humans, or what the treatment’s side effects and costs might be, the findings are more than just good news for mice with creaky joints.

This work identifies an approach that can make a difference,” explained study co-author Brendan Lee MD, PhD, director of the Rolanette and Berdon Lawrence Bone Disease Program of Texas. “There’s a great need for treating and preventing osteoarthritis.”

mouse (1)His study examined a protein that appears to be crucial to the lubrication of joints.  Researchers injected a gene related to the protein into mice and found that not only did the rodents begin producing it themselves, they also appeared to be resistant to joint and cartilage damage resulting from injury and aging.

Still, before our creaky knees start jumping for joy, as with all early research, there are caveats.

The research was in mice, not humans; the next step is to test the approach in horses, whose joints are similar to those of people. And the gene therapy doesn’t seem to do anything for damage that’s already occurred.

This kind of therapy would probably not be very useful in patients who have advanced disease,” Lee said, adding that the treatment would likely have to be used with other strategies.

osteoarthritis 3Dr. Joanne Jordan, director of the Thurston Arthritis Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the findings “would be really very exciting if this translates up into humans.” The study, she said, appears to be reasonable and especially strong because it looks at osteoarthritis in the mice from different angles.

We agree. Any research that provides insight into the mechanisms of osteoarthritis development and a potential protective approach to its treatment are very exciting indeed.  A future with no more horse pills sounds good!

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Ho Ho Ho: health hazards for Santa

santa_claus obesityAfter weeks of harried holiday shopping, when the stores finally close on the evening of December 24, it will be a welcome reprieve from the madness. Families and friends gather together and enjoy a relaxing day or two of rest.

But for one man, the real work is just beginning. That’s right – Santa Claus is coming to town!

And while he spends most of the year enjoying a flexible work schedule, monitoring naughty-and-nice behaviors around the world and occasionally checking in on his elves and reindeer, things are about to get frantic for Old Nick.

And to be honest, this year we’re a little concerned about his health.  That belly fat!  The all-nighter he’s about to pull!  All those cookies!

He may know when you are sleeping, but the only way for Santa to get the job done is to stay up all night on December – and that can lead to some serious health concerns.
Studies have suggested that drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.  Even if he manages to get Rudolf and his friends safely parked on the rooftops, sleep deprivation could cause his judgment to become fuzzier, leading to the wrong presents traveling down the wrong chimneys.
What’s worse is that sleep loss has a cumulative effect. So while people in the Southern hemisphere might do OK, those of us in Northern climes, and especially those on the West Coast aren’t so lucky. Chronic sleep deprivation could mean he could fly over some houses altogether.

santa + sackBut even if we manage to keep him awake with coffee and Red Bull rather than the usual glass of milk, we’ve got to change Santa’s sack. By carrying something that weighs more than 10% of his body weight, one shoulder is going to end up taking on most of the burden, which could lead to back strains, sprains and spasms.
If you’re thinking of getting Santa a gift this season maybe you could consider a backpack, or better still, a rolling suitcase.

That’s not to say Santa doesn’t need the exercise of his Christmas Eve jaunt. Like 70% of adult men in the US, he is severely overweight. The health risks linked to obesity include Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis.

With his giant waist comes the risk of belly fat associated problems such as insulin resistance, high triglycerides, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

Santa beardThen there’s that beard to worry about. After a month or so of letting thousands upon thousands of kids sit on your lap at the mall, we wouldn’t be surprised if he’s harboring some germs in his whiskers.  So if Santa touches his beard followed by his eyes, ears or mouth, he’s pretty much bound to catch something, especially in the midst of this cold and flu season.

We suggest leaving some hand sanitizer next to the milk and cookies this year to give him a fighting chance.

And finally we’re worried about that thin Red Suit. While we’ll give Santa props for covering his head with a hat, traveling outside all night in December in a red velvet suit and a touch of faux fur seems ill advised. In addition to the hat, he should probably throw on a scarf or knit mask, mittens, thermals and a water-resistant coat to ward off hypothermia.

So whether you’ve been naughty or nice, there’s still time to give some thought to Santa’s Health, as well as your own this Christmas season.

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On Your Knees!

Regular readers of SRxA’s Word on Health have heard from time to time about my knee problems. For those of you just joining us, it’s a long sorry tale of injuries that originated during my Olga Korbut wannabe days as a pre-teen gymnast, that were exacerbated by years of marathon running and more recently resulted in surgery following a dog-induced injury!

As I write, I’m recovering from having just had my knee drained and preparing to undergo a series of rooster comb injections to alleviate the pain and swelling of the latest flare-up.

Naturally then, I was interested to hear about a new US – Canadian study which intends to explore whether the nagging knee pain and inflammation experienced by women is different from what men encounter and whether biological differences between men and women affect the incidence and severity of knee osteoarthritis.

Mary I. O’Connor, M.D., chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Florida, will be the study’s principal investigator.

Osteoarthritis, characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in the joint resulting in stiffness and pain, is the most common form of arthritis. It affects approximately 27 million Americans and is more common in women than men.

According to Dr. O’Connor, “Knee osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability in the U.S. and women have greater pain and reductions in function and quality of life from this condition than do men.”

While the underlying mechanisms for differences in knee osteoarthritis between men and women are not yet known, recent studies have indicated sex differences at the cellular and molecular levels may influence development of the disease. This study will examine a variety of human tissues normally discarded during total knee replacement surgery performed for severe osteoarthritis. The tissues will be analyzed for possible differences in pain fibers and hormone and vitamin D receptors between female and male patients.

The team hopes that the results will provide valuable clues for more effective treatment and possible prevention. Hopefully this will benefit not only yours truly, but also the multitudes of women who suffer from the constant pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis of the knee.