A simple test could soon help doctors identify patients at risk of developing arthritis before they show any symptoms. Researchers at the University of Missouri say a new biomarker test now being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could help millions of people get treatment for the disease before their joint pain and stiffness becomes chronic.
Over 27 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. Currently doctors are unable to diagnose patients until they show symptoms – when it is often too late for preventive and minimally invasive treatment options to be effective.
A research team at the University of Missouri’s Comparative Orthopaedic Laboratory has developed a test using specific biomarkers that can accurately determine if a patient is developing arthritis and predict the potential severity of the disease. The test can be run off of a single drop of fluid from a patient’s joint, which is obtained with a small needle similar to drawing blood.
“With this biomarker test, we can study the levels of specific proteins that we now know are associated with osteoarthritis,” said James Cook, a researcher from the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and a professor in Orthopaedic Surgery. “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 MU researchers developed the biomarker test by analyzing the arthritic joints of dogs. Veterinarians say 20 percent of middle-aged dogs and 90 percent of older dogs have osteoarthritis in one or more joints. Because canine joints operate similarly to the joints of humans, the test is being adapted to human patients.
“This test has already shown early usefulness for allowing us to monitor how different treatments affect the arthritic joints in people,” Cook said. “With further validation, this test will allow doctors to adjust and fine tune treatments to individual patients. Also, 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.”
The biomarker test is currently available for licensing and is in the process of gaining FDA approval. The MU study is being published in the Journal of Knee Surgery.