Working to Reduce the Effects of Osteoarthritis for People of All Ages

The way you walk at age 15 could have a dramatic effect on whether you develop arthritis at age 60.

At the Center of Research Translation for the Study of Osteoarthritis (CORT), we’re using high-resolution quantitative imaging to find links between movement and changes at the tissue level.  Those links are very important in helping us find the root causes of musculoskeletal degeneration, and they may lead to a better quality of life not only for a growing population of older people, but also for sports enthusiasts.

In research we’re currently conducting on the hip and knee, for example, imaging not only provides 3-dimensional images of the hip and knee joints, but it also measures the biochemical changes that are happening in parts of the body like cartilage tissue and bone marrow after injury or during degeneration of the joints.

We know that many people get hip osteoarthritis, but we aren’t exactly sure why.  Is the way they move one of the risk factors?  That’s why we’re studying to determine the early biomarkers for hip degeneration.  The research is helping us detect changes early on, to observe the biochemistry of the tissues in the hip joint—before a patient would begin to lose cartilage and way before a patient would need a hip replacement.  In many individuals the degeneration of a hip occurs due to an anatomical anomaly called femoro-acetabular impingement (FAI).  So we’re also trying to understand how the movement of people with FAI makes them more prone to osteoarthritis.

A second study involves anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, which are among the most common and severe ligament injuries of the knee, particularly in athletes.  Orthopaedic surgeons repair a lot of ACLs, and athletes frequently return to their sport soon after the repair.  However, although the ACL has been repaired, we often see that the movement, or the kinematics, of the knee is still not restored to a normal state.  Furthermore, we have observed changes in the biochemistry of the tissues of the knee, which are markers of early degeneration.  Our work involves how we could modify future therapy and intervention to reduce some of those effects.

The work at CORT is translational research, which means it’s translated from a laboratory technique to actual application in injured patients.  The results of this research are having a profound effect on people with osteoarthritis.  For example, in our work on anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury we have identified a cohort of patients who have agreed to try novel techniques as we follow the patients’ progress over time.

At CORT we have expanded beyond research, and we’re now doing a lot of community outreach with the Arthritis Foundation , the YMCA and other local organizations, where our investigators are explaining how their work in the lab translates to a better life for people of all ages.  No longer does osteoarthritis affect only elderly people.  Now many young individuals are sustaining injuries related to sports, which are causing early joint degeneration and damage.

As an example of our community outreach, CORT will be part of the Arthritis Walk in San Francisco on May 18.  For all those who the Arthritis Walk supports, we expect that within a decade our work will yield solutions to the problems they are living with today.

To learn more about how UCSF Radiology is helping to tackle musculoskeletal injuries, please click here.