Can Osteoarthritis Be Predicted?

A study published last month in Science Advances followed a group of women over an 8-year period and investigated the development of knee osteoarthritis (OA) through the lens of molecular markers in the blood. Here’s a breakdown of the key findings:

  • Early detection with biomarkers: Researchers identified a set of six protein-based markers in the blood that could predict knee OA with up to 77% accuracy, even before any damage showed up on X-rays. This suggests changes at the molecular level happen well before traditional diagnostic methods pick them up.
  • Better than traditional methods: The accuracy of these biomarkers was significantly higher compared to using factors like age, body mass index (BMI), or even reported knee pain – which are commonly used for initial OA assessment.
  • Unresolved inflammatory response: The identified markers pointed towards a prolonged inflammatory response in the joint tissues, even in the early stages of OA. This suggests that OA might be a consequence of an acute inflammatory process that doesn’t properly resolve itself.
  • A disease continuum: Interestingly, the majority of the markers that predicted the onset of OA were also useful in predicting how the disease would progress. This indicates a potential “OA continuum” where the underlying molecular mechanisms are similar throughout the development and progression of the condition.
  • Potential for monitoring: The study also pinpoints a particularly strong biomarker (CRTAC1) that could be valuable in monitoring OA severity and how it progresses. This opens doors for the development of tools to track disease course and tailor treatment plans.

Overall, the study highlights the potential of molecular biomarkers in identifying and understanding OA much earlier than traditional methods. This paves the way for earlier intervention, potentially leading to better management of this debilitating condition.