The preliminary results of a study on mice has shown that a new gene therapy may be helpful in eliminating arthritis pain, and dramatically cutting long-term damage to the affected joints.
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center say that the mice used in the study had been genetically engineered to develop osteoarthritis like humans, with the same genetic predisposition that makes some people more likely to develop the disease.
The researchers used gene therapy to increase the number of receptors, which accept naturally occurring painkillers called opioids, on the surfaces of nerve cells that carry pain messages back and forth between an osteoarthritic jaw joint and the spinal cord, by about one thousand times.
They found that the increased opioid receptors on the surfaces of nerve cells led them to become drastically more responsive to the naturally occurring painkiller.
For delivering into cells, the researchers use harmless viruses called vectors, which have evolved to invade human cells and insert their DNA.
They say that one injection of a newly designed gene therapy relieved 100 per cent of osteoarthritic pain in the study model, besides bringing about a nearly 35 per cent reduction in permanent structural to joints caused by round and after round of osteoarthritic inflammation.
"Our publication represents the first proof that gene therapy can work in a way that is clinically applicable," said Dr. Stephanos Kyrkanides, Associate Professor of Dentistry at the university.
"This therapy can simply be injected anywhere in an injured joint, and the treatment will find the nerve endings," added the researcher.
If a follow-up study also gives favorable results, say the researchers, they will seek permission of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for beginning human trials next year.
The study has been published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism.