Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK but is hard to detect in the early stages of the disease.
New research in the United States may lead to a better way of diagnosing and monitoring early to moderate osteoarthritis.
Researchers say that a fluorescent probe tracked the development of osteoarthritis in mice, brightening as the disease progressed.
Developed by researchers from Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts, the probe consists of a harmless fluorescent molecule that can track the activities that lead to cartilage breakdown in the joint, a key sign of osteoarthritis.
According to the researchers, their study is the first to demonstrate that near-infrared fluorescence – a specific type of light invisible to the human eye but possible to see with optical imaging – can be used to detect osteoarthritis changes over time.
It´s hoped that the new approach could also be used to help analyse the effectiveness of osteoarthritis drugs, leading to improved treatments.
“Patients are frequently in pain by the time osteoarthritis is diagnosed. The imaging tests most frequently used, X-rays, don´t indicate the level of pain or allow us to directly see the amount of cartilage loss, which is a challenge for physicians and patients,” explained co-first author Averi A. Leahy, B.A., an M.D./Ph.D. student in the medical scientist training programme at TUSM and the Sackler School.
“The fluorescent probe made it easy to see the activities that lead to cartilage breakdown in the initial and moderate stages of osteoarthritis, which is needed for early detection and adequate monitoring of the disease,” added co-first author Shadi A. Esfahani, M.D., M.P.H., post-doctoral fellow in the division of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, and in the department of radiology at Harvard Medical School.
The findings of the study have been published in the February issue of Arthritis & Rheumatology.