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UK researchers find biomarkers for early diagnosis of osteoarthritis

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Researchers at the University of Warwick have developed a new blood test that can provide an early diagnosis of osteoarthritis (OA).

The test can also distinguish OA from early-stage rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other inflammatory joint disease.

According to the university, it could be available to patients within two years.

The test works by identifying the chemical signatures found in the plasma of blood joint proteins damaged by oxidation, nitration and glycation; the modification of proteins with oxygen, nitrogen and sugar molecules.

Being able to diagnose at an early stage which type of arthritis a patient will develop will allow for appropriate treatment, providing the best chance for effective treatment and potential prevention.

Patients with knee joint early-stage and advanced OA, RA or other inflammatory joint disease were recruited for the study alongside a control group of those with good skeletal health. The researchers analysed plasma and synovial fluid samples from both groups using mass spectrometry.

Through their analysis, the researchers detected damaged proteins in characteristic patterns in the samples of those patients with early and advanced OA and RA. These were found at markedly lower levels in the samples of those in the control group — showing the identifiable biomarkers necessary for early detection and diagnosis.

Lead researcher Dr Naila Rabbani of Warwick Medical School commented:

“Damage to proteins in the arthritic joint have been known for many years but this is the first time it has been exploited for early-stage diagnosis.

“For the first time we measured small fragments from damaged proteins that leak from the joint into blood. The combination of changes in oxidised, nitrated and sugar-modified amino acids in blood enabled early stage detection and classification of arthritis — osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or other self-resolving inflammatory joint disease.

“This is a big step forward for early-stage detection of arthritis that will help start treatment early and prevent painful and debilitating disease.”

The study has been published in the journal Arthritis Research and Therapy.