Stanford study looks at treating osteoarthritis in alternative way

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Millions of Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, but now a new study at Stanford could change our understanding of the disease and potentially open the door to new treatments.

For orthodontist Larry Morrill, DDS, straightening teeth also involves bending and straightening his own knees, hundreds of times a day -- an increasingly painful maneuver, because of osteoarthritis.

"I hurt, it was stiff in the morning, it hurt trying to walk around, kind of limping, especially on my left leg," Morrill said.

Morrill was suffering the kind of pain that drives millions of Americans to undergo knee replacement surgery. But instead, he was recruited into a unique trial at Stanford, which is treating osteoarthritis in a new way.

"We're starting to try and recast the way we think about osteoarthritis. That it's not just this disorder that comes from age or wear and tear, but rather it's a chronic condition that's a result of chronic low-grade inflammation that's causing a consistent and a persistent injury or damage to the joint," Mark Genovese, M.D., from Stanford Health Care said.

In essence, it's an overreaction by the body's immune system. Genovese says the theory that inflammation drives much of the joint damage traditionally blamed on age or wear and tear, was originally tested in animal models, but never in humans, until now.

"We're using some very high-tech imaging, looking at specific MRI-type of scans that access amount of inflammation that's present in the knee before we start giving the medication, and then we compare that with a MRI image done 16 weeks later," Genovese said.

He says patients are given two inexpensive drugs, already known to reduce inflammation. The team is hoping to have preliminary results early next year -- with the long term goal of slowing the progression of osteoarthritis and perhaps even reversing some of the damage.

In the meantime, some patients like Morrill, have reported early relief.

"I go to the gym every single night, workout every single night. I'll keep doing this as long as I can," Morrill said.

We should point out that the study has completed enrollment and is currently full. The research is being paid for in part by a grant from the Northern California Arthritis Association.

Written and produced by Tim Didion
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