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Simulating the progression of knee osteoarthritis

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Researchers in Finland have developed a new computational modelling method to simulate the development of knee osteoarthritis.

Announcing the breakthrough last week, the University of Eastern Finland said that current imaging methods such as MRI and X-ray provide information about the thickness and composition of the cartilage, but they do not provide a quantitative estimate of the patient-specific risk of osteoarthritis or its progression.

“The method we have developed is based on stresses experienced by the knee joint during walking, and these were simulated on a computer,” explained postdoctoral researcher Mika Mononen from the University of Eastern Finland´s Department of Applied Physics. “Our idea was that walking-induced cumulative stresses that exceed a certain threshold will cause local degeneration in the articular cartilage of the knee.”

As part of the study, which has been published in Nature, the researchers took patient-specific estimates of the progression of osteoarthritis obtained by computer modelling and validated them against four-year follow-up data from X-ray measurements.

Participants were divided into a normal weight group and an overweight group. In the normal weight group, the thickness of healthy cartilage did not change over the four years. However, the follow-up X-rays revealed significant degeneration of knee cartilage among the overweight people.

“The study shows that this new method, which is based on computer modelling, was able to predict similar changes in the articular cartilage of the knee as experimental follow-up data,” Mononen said.

According to the researchers, the method can serve as a tool for making patient-specific prognoses on the progression of osteoarthritis. It can also be used for assessing the patient-specific effects of excess weight on the future health of the knee joint as well as the success of surgical procedures such as meniscectomy.