Simple blood tests which could predict the severity of osteoarthritis

Bristol researchers are hoping to develop simple blood tests which could predict the severity of osteoarthritis, a common, disabling joint condition which affects more than two million people in the UK.

Dr Mohammed Sharif, a lecturer in anatomy at the University of Bristol, and Dr John Kirwan, consultant rheumatologist at Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI), have been awarded a two-year grant of £61,298 from the Arthritis Research Campaign (arc) to try and identify reliable markers of osteoarthritis in a group of 230 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Osteoarthritis is a major cause of disability which causes stiff, painful joints, and is a condition for which there is neither an effective treatment to stop the disease worsening, nor a cure. The only available treatments are pain relief and joint replacement surgery for those with end-stage disease.

Dr Sharif has identified a number of molecules (so-called bio-markers of disease) to investigate how osteoarthritis develops. Dr Sharif and Dr Kirwan and other clinical colleagues at the BRI have been studying patients with early osteoarthritis in order to learn more about how it originates and develops.

A major aim of the study is to develop simple blood tests that will identify which patients will develop severe osteoarthritis, so that they can be targeted and treated more effectively.

Dr Sharif said: "The main goal of this research is to identify a simple marker which can be measured non-invasively in blood or urine, to identify which patients are likely to get worse and require joint surgery."

These selected patients may be advised to be aware of any risk factors associated with the progression of the disease such as obesity, and repeated use of the same joints.

The arc grant will enable Dr Sharif to analyse a series of biomarkers in sequential serum and urine samples collected over five years from groups of osteoarthritis patients. He will identify which biomarkers are most closely associated with the disease process, outcome, and joint changes. The combined clinical, imaging and biochemical studies will have the power to identify phases when a patient is most likely to benefit from a particular treatment, and provide an invaluable resource for further investigation of the development of osteoarthritis.

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