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UK Discovery Could Lead To New Treatments for Joint Degradation

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A team of UK researchers has made a discovery that could prove very important for the development of new osteoarthritis (OA) treatments. The study, conducted by scientists from the University of Manchester and the University of Westminster, has found that a molecule occurring naturally in the body prevents the destruction of joint cells.

Millions of Britons suffer from OA and the number keeps rising as people are living longer. OA is the result of cartilage loss and destruction in joints, the most commonly affected being the knees, hips, hands and vertebrae. Specialised cells known as chondrocytes produce cartilage and keep it healthy but their number is lower in people with OA.

Urocortin is the name of the molecule that protects joint cells from destruction. The researchers established that its removal triggered the death of a large number of chondrocytes. However, the addition of Urocortin shielded chondrocyte cells against programmed cell-death resulting from chemicals found in osteoarthritic cartilage.

The study was led by Professor Paul Townsend and Dr Ian Locke from the University of Westminster and the findings were published last week in the Cell Death and Disease journal. As Professor Townsend explained, a variety of programmed cell-death chemicals are released in OA joints and they kill chondrocytes. The study has demonstrated that Urocortin, which occurs naturally in the body, plays a critical role for the survival of chondrocyte cells. Dr Locke added that the next step would be to examine in greater detail the mechanism through which Urocortin aids cell survival. Researchers need to know this in order to come up with new treatments for joint degradation, Locke said.