Stopping Arthritis before It Starts

Decadron may prevent osteoarthritis

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Young athletes can put their bodies through a lot of stress. Over time, the continuous stress can lead injuries and osteoarthritis. Instead of treating arthritis once it develops, why not stop the condition before it starts?

A drug that is used to treat inflammatory diseases - such as rheumatoid arthritis - may also stop osteoarthritis from developing in people after they have injured a joint.

"You may be able to stop arthritis before it starts."

Alan Grodzinsky, a professor of biological, mechanical and electrical engineering at MIT and the study's senior author, and his colleagues found that glucocorticoids - steroids that can lower pain and swelling in arthritic joints - may also keep arthritis from developing in the first place.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, with about 27 million Americans suffering from the condition. Over three million of these patients got arthritis after injuring a joint. Once a joint is injured, it becomes easier for the cartilage (padding for the joints) to slowly and steadily wear away. Eventually, the bones of the joint will start rubbing together, which causes the pain, stiffness, and swelling of arthritis.

Usually, people who have suffered joint injuries are treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - such as ibuprofen - to deal with the pain and swelling. In many cases, the cartilage will break down over time, leading to arthritis.

At the moment, there is not a way to stop the cartilage decay. However, the findings from this study present a new opportunity that may reduce people's risk of arthritis.

Grodzinsky and colleagues tested glucocorticoid Decadron (dexamethasone) on damaged cartilage tissue from both humans and cows. They were trying to see if dexamethasone would slow down or stop the cartilage decay.

The researchers damaged the cartilage tissue themselves. Then, they put inflammatory proteins - called cytokines - into the tissue. Cytokines speed up the breakdown of cartilage.

When the researchers treated the damaged tissue with dexamethasone right after the injury, the cartilage stopped breaking down. Even when the damaged cartilage was treated a couple days after the injury, the drug still worked.

According to Grodzinsky, it is important that the drug work a day or two after the injury because many people who have injured a joint do not go to a doctor immediately.

More studies are planned to test how many treatments are needed to maintain the protective effect of the drug.

This observational study by Grodzinsky and his fellow researchers was published on September 2 in Arthritis Research and Therapy

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 12, 2011
Last Updated:
September 20, 2011