Touching Lives - February 2008
Osteoarthritis and statin treatment
Several things can help relieve the symptoms, including painkillers, antiinflammatory drugs, exercise and joint replacement operations. Nevertheless, some people find they must learn to cope with persistent pain and stiffness, which poses a real challenge, especially if they have difficulties sleeping and are worried about losing their independence. Osteoarthritis results from damage to cartilage. A project team led by Professor Timothy Cawston believes that harmful enzymes cause damage by chopping up cartilage.They aim to find ways to stop the production of these enzymes or block their action.They have already made an exciting discovery, during pilot studies in the laboratory, that drugs called statins can block damage to cartilage. In this study the team are finding out which two statins show the most promise, and performing laboratory investigations into 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. They are also studying whether people who are already taking statins, for example to reduce their cholesterol levels, experience benefits in their joints, by studying cartilage removed during hip replacement operations.The aim is to find out whether statins have the potential to slow the progression of osteoarthritis, preventing damage to joints and reducing the need for knee or hip replacement operations. If the results are promising, 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 have good safety profiles. Researchers hope that a better understanding of the mechanisms by which statins might prevent damage to cartilage may also enable them to develop other new treatments for osteoarthritis. With thanks to the Garfield Weston Foundation for their generous support of this research.