Charity Action Medical Research has announced the first independent UK study to see whether statins could slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
Currently there is no cure for this painful and often disabling disease, which affects 80% of people over 75 in the UK .
However a charity-funded research team at Newcastle University has begun work that it hopes will demonstrate that statins could block cartilage damage caused by the disease.
Statin drugs have been around for a number of years and are routinely used in the reduction of blood cholesterol levels.
The team has already made an exciting discovery, during pilot studies in the laboratory, that statins can block damage to cartilage.
They are now building on this work to find out which two statins show most promise. The team will be investigating how the drugs seem to work in human joint tissue, focusing on how they affect both the production of harmful enzymes and the signalling pathways between cells.
The team is also studying whether people who are already taking statins, to reduce their cholesterol levels, experience benefits in their joints; by studying cartilage removed during hip replacement operations.
Dr Yolande Harley of Action Medical Research said, “At the moment there is no treatment to prevent the progression of cartilage damage in osteoarthritis; drug therapy or surgical intervention could only hope to make the patient more comfortable.
“A new treatment that blocks the breakdown of cartilage would be life-changing for many people; preventing damage to joints and reducing the need for knee or hip-replacement operations.
“If results of this research are promising, and statins have the potential to do this, then the next step would be to work towards clinical trials.
“This could well happen with minimal delay, as statins are already widely used to reduce cholesterol levels, and they have good safety profiles.”
Team leader, Professor Timothy Cawston of Newcastle University said, “The symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary from person to person, often developing slowly over time. For those who are most severely affected, the condition can be extremely disabling.
“Arthritis in the hips, knees and feet can make it difficult to get out and about. Even within the home, things like climbing the stairs and getting into the bath can become problematic. In the hands arthritis affects grip; making it difficult to do everyday things like getting dressed, opening jars, writing, and turning taps or keys.
“There is no cure for osteoarthritis and, although some people learn to cope with persistent pain and stiffness, the effects often go beyond the physical causing difficulties sleeping and worries about loss of independence.
“This is tremendously exciting research that could have a real benefit to patients in a relatively short timeframe.”
Notes to editors
The team is looking at 5 statins to see which two show the most promise; Atorvastatin (Lipitor), Fluvastatin (Lesol), Pravastatin (Pravachol), Rosuvastatin (Crestor) and Simvastatin (Zocor). Pilot studies had shown Fluvastatin and Simvastatin to be beneficial
Project leader: Prof Timothy E Cawston PhD (Collagen Turnover Research Group, Medical Faculty , Newcastle University)
Professor Cawston is a leading expert in the mechanisms of cartilage loss in arthritis and has worked and published in this area extensively for over 20 years. Initially working at the Strangeways Research Laboratory and then at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, he moved to Newcastle in 1996 where he established the Musculoskeletal Research Group at Newcastle University.
Affects the joints and can cause pain, stiffness and deformity in the knees, hips and hands which can be extremely disabling for those most severely affected.
Osteoarthritis results from damage to cartilage. Healthy cartilage protects the ends of bones, absorbing the stresses put on the joint during movement. However, in osteoarthritis, cartilage becomes pitted, brittle and thin and can completely disappear leaving the bone exposed.
Current treatment looks to relieve the symptoms with painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, exercise and ultimately joint replacement, but it cannot prevent cartilage damage.
Eighty percent of people over 75 in the UK have osteoarthritis , though it can develop at any age.
More than 7 million adults in the UK (15% of the population) have long-term health problems due to arthritis and related conditions
Almost 9 million people in the UK (19% of the population) visited their GP in the past year with arthritis and related conditions
More than 2 million people visited their GP each year because of osteoarthritis .
The number of people with osteoarthritis has risen over the past 10 years as the population ages, and more people are now seeking their GP's help
At least 4.4 million people in the UK have X-ray evidence of moderate to severe osteoarthritis in their hands; 550,000 have moderate to severe osteoarthritis in their knees; and 210,000 have moderate to severe osteoarthritis of the hips
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