Scientists have found an easy and quick test to detect which could end the agony of millions of people crippled by osteoarthritis. The method may help to predict the most common form of arthritis even before it strikes.
The simple procedure - which can work on just a single drop of fluid from a patient's joint - offers the hope of faster-acting remedies and even one day wiping out the devastating degenerative condition for good.
Predicting who will be struck by the disease means ways can be found to stop it forming, sparing millions from daily agony and having to endure joint replacements. It would also save the NHS billions each year.
Doctors are currently unable to diagnose patients with arthritis until they show symptoms, which include joint pain and stiffness. By the time these symptoms occur it is often too late for preventive and minimally invasive treatment options to be effective.
Now, scientists at the University of Missouri in the US have developed the test using specific biomarkers from fluid within the joint, which can accurately determine if a patient is developing osteoarthritis. It can also predict the disease's potential severity.
The fluid is taken from the patient 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," the Daily Express quoted researcher James Cook, as saying in an article published in the Journal of Knee 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," he stated.
Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on joints where the cartilage that cushions movement is eaten away. Bones then come into contact with each other and the friction swells the joints making them extremely painful and leaving many sufferers in constant agony.
Current treatments can only relieve the symptoms. One drug was recently approved for use in the UK, which can dramatically slow down the disease, but it is still incurable and often leads to costly joint replacements.
Researchers in California recently determined a molecule that can "regrow" damaged cartilage. But finding a way of discovering the disease before it strikes could be even more beneficial.
The Missouri researchers said that they developed the test by analyzing the joints of dogs.
Veterinarians predict that 20 per cent of middle-aged dogs and 90 per cent of older dogs have osteoarthritis in one or more joints. Dog joints operate in a very similar way to the joints of humans and Prof Cook says their test is already being adapted for use in human patients.
"This test has already shown early usefulness for allowing us to monitor how different treatments affect the arthritic joints in people. With further validation, this test will allow doctors to adjust and fine tune treatments to individual patients," he said.