New York University researchers told the
American Chemical Society conference early diagnosis could reduce the need for
surgery later in life.
The Arthritis Research Campaign said the
scan could help assess treatments.
The weakening and breakdown of cartilage,
which cushions the moving parts of joints, is a key factor in the development
of osteoarthritis, which is common in the over-40s.
Cartilage is tough and elastic because of
its high water content, and existing MRI scans look for lower levels of this as
a sign that the disease is developing.
is trying to spot the disease even earlier by looking for a substance called
glycosaminogycan (GAG), which helps the cartilage hold plenty of water.
The scientists found a way to make the
hydrogen atoms attached to GAG emit a signal, which can be picked up by the
"Our methods have the potential for
providing early warning signs for cartilage disorders like osteoarthritis, thus
potentially avoiding surgery and physical therapy later on," BBC quoted Dr
Alexej Jerschow, one of the researchers, as saying.
He said that a patient given early notice
of impending arthritis could take steps to protect their joints, perhaps using
dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin, which may be able to
slow or halt joint degeneration.
The next stage now is to test the technique
However, Professor Alan Silman, the medical
director of the Arthritis Research Campaign, said that the practical
implications of the research were "currently very limited".
"Unfortunately at the moment there is
no treatment that could be offered that would change the situation. What it may
prove to be is a very sensitive test of drug treatment response as new agents
are developed," Silman added.