Australian researchers are using state-of-the-art imaging to find a new biomarker for osteoarthritis, which could lead to more targeted treatment and help slow progression of the disease.
With mass spectrometry imaging, researchers are learning more about changes at the molecular level that indicate the severity of cartilage damage, a key feature of the condition.
The University of South Australia study has mapped complex sugars on osteoarthritis cartilage, showing different sugars are associated with damaged tissue compared to healthy tissue.
The findings will potentially help overcome the challenge of identifying why cartilage degrades at different rates in the body.
"Despite its prevalence in the community, there is a lot about osteoarthritis that we don't understand," Associate Professor Paul Anderson said.
"It is one of the most common degenerative joint diseases, yet there are limited diagnostic tools, few treatment options and no cure."
Existing biomarkers are still largely focused on body fluids which are neither reliable nor sensitive enough to map all the changes in cartilage damage.
By understanding the biomolecular structure at the tissue level and how the joint tissues interact in the early stages of osteoarthritis, researchers believe molecular changes could point the way to better medication and treatments.
Osteoarthritis affects an estimated 2.2 million Australians and more than 300 million people worldwide, with those aged over 45 most at risk.
It costs the country an estimated $23 billion each year.
Study lead Olivia Lee said the use of mass spectrometry imaging was particularly significant with the technique already used to identify biomarkers for different types of cancer.
"To date, diagnosing osteoarthritis has relied heavily on x-rays or MRI, but these provide limited information and don't detect biomolecular changes that signal cartilage and bone abnormalities," she said.
"By contrast, alternative imaging methods such as MSI can identify specific molecules and organic compounds in the tissue section."
Monday is World Arthritis Day.
Australian Associated Press