Simple test 'may give early indication of arthritis risk'
Scientists have developed a simple test that could provide an early indication of whether or not a person is likely to develop osteoarthritis.
At present, the degenerative joint disease can only be diagnosed after a person has started to display symptoms, at which point treatments may be less effective.
But scientists at the University of Missouri in the US have discovered that specific biomarkers in a person's joint fluid can be used to detect and predict arthritis prior to the onset of symptoms.
The test requires a single drop of fluid from the patient's joint, which can be obtained using a small needle.
This fluid is then assessed to measure levels of specific proteins that can accurately determine whether the person is developing arthritis, as well as how severe their condition is likely to become.
Dr James Cook, professor of orthopaedic surgery and a researcher in the university's College of Veterinary Medicine, said: "With this biomarker test, we can study the levels of specific proteins that we now know are associated with osteoarthritis.
"Not only does the test have the potential to help predict future arthritis, but it also tells us about the early mechanisms of arthritis, which will lead to better treatments in the future."
The new test, which is detailed in the Journal of Knee Surgery, is currently being reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration, which plays a similar role to the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
Dr Cook added: "Being able to tell patients when they are at a high risk for developing arthritis will give doctors a strong motivational tool to convince patients to take preventive measures including appropriate exercise and diet change."
Arthritis Research UK scientists in Cardiff and Oswestry are carrying out similar work to identify biomarkers that could predict osteoarthritis.
Several candidate markers have been investigated in the last ten years, but none have been proved to be ideal.
A spokeswoman for Arthritis Research UK commented:
“Currently, although several candidate markers have been investigated in the last ten years, none have been proved to be ideal and there are no definitive means for diagnosing and monitoring the onset of osteoarthritis. This is a disadvantage to clinicians in identifying patients at different stage or different types of the disease, and also to researchers and drug companies trying to understand the disease and develop new ways of treat it.
“Our researchers, and those from industry and other research bodies, are engaged in investigating a number or possible biomarkers that can predict disease, as we’re aware this is an important area of research. We’re also looking for the best ways of identifying people at risk of osteoarthritis by tracking down the genes responsible so that ultimately we could devise a genetic test to predict who is likely to develop osteoarthritis and how severely.
“It will be interesting to see if this particular test proves to be clinically useful, as so far it has only been tested on dogs.”