By Mili Jayadeep
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, resulting in painful and stiff joints. This condition is associated with extremely painful symptoms that compromise an individual’s mobility. Weight-bearing joints, such as the knees and hips and even joints of the hand, are the most commonly affected. Osteoarthritis develops due to the degeneration of articular cartilage between bones in a joint resulting in friction, which generates inflammation and triggers pain.
Current treatment for osteoarthritis in the UK is a combination of therapies including medications, lifestyle changes and other therapeutics to alleviate pain. Opioids such as codeine are strong painkillers prescribed to provide short-term pain relief for osteoarthritis patients. However, problems with opioids include dependency, addiction and overdose as they work by changing brain chemistry when ingested.
Previously, research has shown that some opioids provide pain relief at the local site of pain however still posed a high addiction risk. According to a study by USC Researchers in the journal of Arthritis and Rheumatology, there is a new opioid medication with the potential to slow down osteoarthritis progression, maintain joint health and provide pain relief with a lowered addiction risk.
The study investigated complex cell signalling pathways using animal models, which revealed that the proposed medication results in the targeted activation of specific receptor known as the kappa opioid receptor (KOR). The cell signalling cascade occurring in the nervous system during KOR activation was also found to have direct involvement in preventing cartilage degradation as well as offering pain relief. This indicates the drug’s potential to improve disease outcomes for patients.
Research conducted on mice and human cartilage cells highlighted the drug’s ability to repair damaged tissue and slow disease progression via KOR modulation. This study also helps increasing understanding in the role KORs play in maintenance and disease of the articular cartilage in joints. This drug is undergoing clinical trials to gather more evidence in its application on osteoarthritic patients and test its addiction risk. Further studies are necessary to understand its applications for osteoarthritis patients.
These findings show for the first time, a novel therapeutic strategy for promoting joint cartilage health via KOR activation and cell signalling mechanisms. This greatly contributes to the limited treatment options available to osteoarthritis patients and opens up prospects for future research to promote bone and joint health: “The implications of this study may someday alter how we provide orthopaedic care to significantly reduce the number of patients experiencing long-term pain and addiction,” says Weber, an American orthopaedic surgeon and author of this study.