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Worcester Consultant Contributes to Major New Study on the Genetic Causes of Osteoarthritis

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A Worcester consultant was part of a team of scientists to discover clues to the genetic causes of osteoarthritis.

Professor Ashok Rai, from the University of Worcester, and Consultant Rheumatologist, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, was among researchers from nine institutions across the UK to discover more genetic regions associated with the cause of osteoarthritis.

The researchers have described the findings as a significant breakthrough in understanding the genetic risk factors that cause the disease.

“We are delighted to have been able to contribute to the Arthritis Research UK funded arcOGEN study,” Professor Rai said. “This multi-centre study looked at the genes associated with Osteoarthritis. Locally we recruited patients who had suffered Osteoarthritis and undergone joint replacement at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS trust. We worked closely with colleagues in our Orthopaedic Department, including Mr Nadim Aslam, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, and I would also like to thank our research nurses supported by the Clinical Local research Network (CLRN).”

The findings were published in The Lancet this week. The Arthritis Research UK-funded arcOGEN consortium has highlighted eight genetic regions linked to the development of osteoarthritis. Previously only three osteoarthritis genetic regions had been identified.

Several of the genetic regions encompass genes that are known to regulate how joints are made and then maintained, making them excellent osteoarthritis candidate gene. Another genetic region contains a gene involved in the regulation of body weight, which is a strong risk factor for osteoarthritis.

The £2.2million project is the world’s biggest ever-genome wide study into osteoarthritis, comparing the genetic differences of 7,400 patients with severe osteoarthritis with 11,000 healthy volunteers. The results were then replicated in over 7,000 OA individuals and 43,000 control individuals, from four European collaborating partners.

Osteoarthritis affects around 40 per cent of people over the age of 70, a total of 8 million people in the UK, causing pain and disability. There is currently no cure for the condition. Treatments for early osteoarthritis are limited to non-surgical options such as pain killers and physiotherapy until joint replacement becomes a viable option. Osteoarthritis is a complex disorder with both environmental and genetic causes. It is estimated that about 50 per cent of an individual’s risk of developing osteoarthritis is due to inherited genetic factors.

Medical director of Arthritis Research UK Professor Alan Silman said: “There is no cure for osteoarthritis yet it affects millions of people around the world. For 60 years we have known that you are twice as likely to have osteoarthritis if your parents have the disease, yet we haven’t known why.

“Until we understand the cause of this complex disease, we cannot hope to find a cure. This is a major breakthrough in our understanding of osteoarthritis which we hope will help us to unlock the genetic basis of the disease.”

Further work is now needed to pinpoint the actual DNA changes within the genetic regions to establish exactly how these changes lead to osteoarthritis.

For more information about the arcOGEN project go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org