Sunday, January 8, 2012

Discovery sheds light on how to treat arthritis

Arthritis is a collection of diseases that affect the joints and make one's body feel rigid and stiff, which impedes movement. There are a lot of causes, but most patients suffer from an underlying inflammation that breaks down the cartilage between bones, which results in typical symptoms. We know it has something to do with collagens, long fibres that from a matrix providing structure to tissues. Scientists have revealed what happens during arthritis with a specific collagen molecule, that is known to play a role in preventing it.
Collagen network, as seen with an electron microscope.
The specific collagen molecule carries number XI, and researchers from Boise State University have revealed which proteins it interacts with. This tells us a great deal about how collagen XI functions in our joints. Scientists knew that a lack of available collagen XI is a great risk factor for developing arthritis, but it was unknown how it actually functions.
General idea of collagen structure.
By uncovering its interactions, we may be able to develop new strategies to counter arthritis, which affects approximately 20 million people in the USA alone. Because incidence increases with age, number of arthritis patients are expected to rise in the coming years. Currently, treatment focuses primarily on lifestyle changes, such as exercising and reducing weight. There is no proper medication, let alone cure, for arthritis.

The most common form of arthritis mostly affects knees, hips and vertebrae, and is known as osteoarthritis. It is marked by an absence of inflammation, and the Boise State University researchers think they can use their findings to develop a treatment strategy for this particular form of arthritis. By modifying the interactions of collagen XI, we may be able to increase its numbers, and therefore keep our joints nice and smooth. However, much more studies are required to see how this will actually work.

Not all scientific studies focus on developing new medicine. Several studies are aimed to uncovering the mechanisms that fuel life, without any apparent use. However, our increase in fundamental knowledge often results in practical use later on, when we have discovered how to harness it. The interactions of particular molecules in our body is a prime example. However, in the case of collagen XI it is easily predictable that we can use the knowledge to develop medicine in the near future.

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