A newly developed medical imaging technology may provide doctors with a long-awaited test for early diagnosis of osteoarthritis (OA), scientists from New York reported today at the 236th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. By far the most common form of arthritis, OA is a bane of the Baby Boom generation, causing joint pain and disability for more than half of those over 65 – nearly 21 million people in the United States.
Current diagnostic methods usually do not catch the disease until OA is in advanced stages when joint damage may already have occurred. A method for early diagnosis could open a window of opportunity for preventing or reducing permanent damage — especially with evidence that dietary supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin can halt further joint degeneration, says Alexej Jerschow, Ph.D., who reported on the research jointly with Ravinder R. Regatte, Ph.D.
The new method uses a modified form of magnetic resonance imaging to determine the concentration of a polymer known as glycosaminogycan (GAG) that holds lots of water and gives cartilage its tough, elastic properties. GAG also is a recognized biomarker for both osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease — a common cause of back pain. According to Jerschow, a low concentration of GAG is known to correlate with the onset of osteoarthritis and other cartilage disorders.
The diagnostic “tags” the hydrogen atoms attached to the GAGs in a way that makes them emit a signal that can be picked up by an MRI machine to determine the concentration of GAG and assess cartilage health.
The test could also be used to improve existing cartilage-boosting drugs, Regatte says. Currently, it’s difficult to gauge the efficacy of these drugs without a diagnostic tool to measure their effects on cartilage.
Release date: August 20, 2008
Source: American Chemical Society