There is no effective treatment available for osteoarthritis as of now. However, a group of scientists has been able to find a method, which can reduce the severe effects of osteoarthritis through a simple knee injection. Scientists have done this research on mice. They have targeted a particular protein pathway in the animal. They have been able to put it into overdrive and stop the progress of cartilage degeneration. The findings of the study have shown that treating surgery-induced knee cartilage degeneration through the same pathway via the nanomedicine tools can halt cartilage degeneration and knee pain. This research has been led by Dr. Ling Qin, who is an associate professor of Orthopedic Surgery from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He has been studying the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) which signals in cartilage in his lab. As per the author of the study, the deficiency of EGFR leads to the growth of osteoarthritis. This is the reason; experts have tried to trigger activation of EGFR to treat the disease. The team of experts has claimed that over-accelerating the EGFR inside the knee might be able to reduce the growth of osteoarthritis. The findings of the study have been released in the journal called Science Translational Medicine.
The lead author of the study Ling Qin has said that his lab tests have been able to derive a potential link between EGFR and the progression of osteoarthritis, which has prepared the ground for his hypothesis. Experts have compared common mice with those that have been found with a molecule called a ligand, which attaches to EGFR. They have said that the molecule has been overexpressed in chondrocytes, which are like building blocks of cartilage. This overexpression leads to the overactivation of EGFR, which shows in knee cartilage. During the observation, mice with overexpressed HBEGF (the EGFR ligand) have been found to have inflated cartilage constantly. It means it has not been wearing away like in mice that have standard EGFR activity. Experts have found as these mice have grown up to be adults their cartilage has become resistant to degeneration and other signs of osteoarthritis even if their knee meniscus has been damaged. To further validate the findings of the study, experts have found gefitinib treatments, which are used to block EGFR activity, have deteriorated the immunity against the degeneration of cartilage. With the new observations, scientists have been able to suggest some potential clinical treatment options. In a series of new tests, they have found nanotherapeutics by binding a potent EGFR ligand. They have altered growth factor-alpha onto synthetic nanoparticles to inject into mice, which have already been suffering from cartilage damage.
Experts have informed that free EGFR ligands have a short half-life and cannot be retained in a joint capsule, as they are very tiny. Nanoparticles prevent them from dilapidation and confine them within the joint. Nanoparticles reduce off-target toxicity and send them deep inside the dense cartilage to reach chondrocytes. Mice have shown reduced cartilage degeneration and bone hardening as experts have injected them with these nanotherapeutics. It has helped ease the knee pain as well. Mice have shown no side effects after the treatment, said the experts. The authors have said that though the aspects of this treatment are quite technical and need to be worked out, however, its ability to reduce the complications of osteoarthritis by a simple injection will change the way people behave as they age and after an injury. This treatment will take some time before it is applied to humans. However, the use of nanoparticles has been clinically tested and declared safe.