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An artificial version of a compound found in broccoli could be used as a treatment for osteoarthritis, according to a new study.

Recent research has shown that eating cruciferous vegetables such as sprouts, cabbage and especially broccoli can ease the symptoms of osteoarthritis because of a compound called sulforaphane which is released as the vegetables are digested. Tests have shown that the substance blocks the inflammation and damage to cartilage associated with the joint condition.

Although sulforaphane can be obtained by eating broccoli, patients would have to consume substantial amounts on a daily basis to significantly alleviate any symptoms of the condition. Meanwhile, the development of a treatment based on sulforaphane has been held back because the compound is unstable, making it impossible to manufacture into a regular pill format.

But now, researchers at the Royal Veterinary College in London have carried out a trial using a synthetic and stable form of sulforaphane which was developed by UK pharmaceutical company Evgen Pharma.

A single dose of the medication, called Sulforadex (SFX-01), provides as much sulforaphane as eating around 2.5kg of broccoli.

The initial findings from tests involving live osteoarthritis-prone mice are very encouraging, according to Professor Andrew Pitsillides, Professor of Skeletal Dynamics at the Royal Veterinary College. Mice treated with SFX-01 had significantly improved bone architecture, gait balance and movement in comparison to an untreated sample group.

“Nearly nine million people in the UK have osteoarthritis and it costs the NHS more than £5 billion every year. There is no cure or effective treatment for the disease other than pain relief or joint replacement, so the potential for SFX-01 is massive,” Professor Pitsillides said.

Next, the researchers hope to expand the experiments and publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal.