Around 30 million American adults live with osteoarthritis, also known as a “wear and tear” form of arthritis. This condition is caused by damage or breakdown of joint cartilage and often occurs in the knees, hips and hands.

In the past, individuals with osteoarthritis have had limited treatment options for the painful condition. Now, that’s changing.

A promising new study

A new study was published last week in the journal Protein & Cell that delved into a promising combination therapy for osteoarthritis sufferers. In the study, researchers combined two experimental treatments and found that they reversed the cellular and molecular signs of osteoarthritis in isolated human cartilage cells and rats.

“We thought that by mixing these two molecules that work in different ways, maybe we could make something better,” said Paloma Martinez-Redondo, a Salk postdoctoral fellow and co-first author of the new study.

The scientists first administered the treatment in rats with osteoarthritis and, six weeks later, their cartilage was thicker and fewer cells were dying. Moreover, the rats’ disease improved from stage two to stage one and no negative side effects were observed. When the molecule therapy was tested on isolated human cartilage, a similar effect transpired — breakdown of the arthritic joint cartilage began reversing.

Hope on the horizon

Though this research is still in its early stages, it is exciting nonetheless. “We are excited to continue refining this promising combination therapy for human use,” Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, lead author and a professor in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory said. With further research and fine-tuning, the combination might be found to prevent the onset of osteoarthritis before symptoms develop.