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The Latest Osteoarthritis Research

This body of research became fast-paced in the 1990s with the development of new molecular biology techniques. Current research into the causes of osteoarthritis is generally looking at how the following four factors work alone or in tandem to produce this disease:

One major part that they are examining is the cartilage. Researchers have discovered that chemical changes that take place after the onset of osteoarthritis cause a loss of two types of fibers: proteoglycans and collagen. Both these fibers give resilience to cartilage. They have also found that in osteoarthritis, enzymes called proteases (which destroy old cartilage so it can be replaced by new growth) begin doing their job much faster than is good for the body. Researchers are interested in knowing why this happens in some people.

Another key question they are trying to answer is how our immune system protects us from inflammatory types of arthritis. Inflammation, which involves swelling, redness and heat, is one of the immune system's responses to osteoarthritis. Studies have found that the presence of a group of chemicals called prostaglandins results in inflammation. Aspirin interferes with the production of prostaglandins, but it also interferes with other important body systems, which is why it has very nasty side effects when taken for long periods of time.

Scientists are also looking into the heredity factors of arthritis, especially ankylosing spondylitis and rheumatoid arthritis. They have so far figured out that people with HLA-B27, a genetic marker, are more likely to develop ankylosing spondylitis than the general population.

In some forms of arthritis, infections can combine with a faulty gene to set off one or more malfunctions in the immune system, a condition called autoimmunity. This is caused by the production of T cells or autoantibodies. Scientists are now studying why certain people make T cells, which cannot distinguish between healthy parts and foreign invaders and start killing the former. They are also studying how certain viruses, such as Epstein-Barr or HIV, may also trigger some kinds of arthritis.

Researchers have always been intrigued by a variation of disease patterns among countries, especially in the case of rheumatoid arthritis. This body of research also covers a study of injuries that can lead to arthritis. For example, football players, who are prone to knee injuries and resulting osteoarthritis.

Newer tests are being developed to aid doctors in diagnosing various types of arthritis. Newer drugs are also on the research table to slow down the immune system's response in rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Pharmacists are also studying the effects of various combination drugs and their side effects. Meanwhile, research into treatments is also looking at:

• Magnetic resonance imaging in diagnosis
• Improving access to care
• Sleep disturbances
• Functional status
• Pain Control Methods
• Exercise

Researchers are also looking at what people with arthritis can do to help themselves. For instance, it’s been proved that some aerobic exercises, which are good for the heart, are also good for the joints.

Doctors have long suspected that being overweight puts stress on the knees. Recent studies have now confirmed that obesity increases the risk for developing osteoarthritis of the knees and hip. A sedentary job can also increase chances of developing osteoarthritis. Research in prevention is also looking at diet, injuries, and social support patterns.