New Repurposed Drug Offers Hope for Hand Osteoarthritis


Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis, is the use-related breakdown of cartilage in our joints. There is no cure currently available.

However, new research points to innovative solutions to relieve the pain and disability of the one common type of this condition: hand OA.

Repurposed Drug May Offer Relief for Hand Pain

recent study published in Science Translational Medicine finds that people at particular risk of developing OA in their hands are low in levels of a certain molecule.

Scientists analyzed data from the UK Biobank (a research database) to confirm results from a 2014 Icelandic study that found variations in a certain gene that codes for low levels of retinoic acid increased the risk of developing hand OA. They then collected hand cartilage samples from 33 patients with hand OA who had had surgery for the condition.

After analysis, it was discovered that those at risk of hand OA also had low levels of retinoic acid, a metabolite of vitamin A that mediates its functions and is required for growth and development.

Previous research found that retinoic acid has anti-inflammatory properties and may explain why low levels are associated with OA, while the gene they found could help identify those at the greatest risk of developing hand OA.

However, a drug called talarozole, which is used to treat psoriasis and acne, is currently available that might be repurposed to help boost retinoic acid levels in people with OA.

“This research is still at an early stage, but with these encouraging findings, we are a big step closer in being able to develop a new class of disease-modifying drugs to treat osteoarthritis, prevent chronic pain, and enable people to live well with the condition,” Dr. Neha Issar-Brown, Director of Research and Health Intelligence at the charity Versus Arthritis, which funded the research, said in a statement.

Ultimately, this means we may finally have a treatment that prevents—or even reverses—the painful symptoms of OA.

The study authors said that since the drug has an acceptable safety profile in human subjects, a small proof-of-concept clinical study is underway to see whether this drug might represent a new disease-modifying treatment in patients.

Current Treatment and Prevention

“Osteoarthritis is a common problem with a multitude of causes as well as treatments,” Dr. Brian H. Black, an American Osteopathic Association board-certified physician of family medicine, told The Epoch Times.

Primary treatments are preventive to avoid joint destruction by maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy lifestyle devoid of injury.

“Daily exercise can help to ease pain and prevent stiffness,” he said. “Using a brace helps decrease the worsening of pain and injury. Heat packs or ice can be used to relieve soreness and decrease inflammation.”

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can temporarily deaden nerves to reduce pain, while massage and physical therapy can be used to strengthen and soothe surrounding tissues.

An available treatment with great promise to halt OA progression and help with tissue repair is regenerative medicine. One type of regenerative medicine involves using platelet-rich plasma (PRP) in the joint to stimulate healing.

Regarding prevention, Dr. Becca Rodriguez Regner, a Team USA physician board-certified in family and sports medicine, explained that the body ages like a car.

The car wears out gradually, and events happen that need evaluation and maintenance to improve the car’s mobility and function. A car can also experience trauma with accidents that cause damage.

“The body has a similar story,” she said. “Osteoarthritis is a normal physiological process that happens to the majority of people with aging.”

Besides managing symptoms, the progression of osteoarthritis can be slowed down.

“But with time the joint/affected body part will continue to break down,” confirmed Dr. Dmitriy Dvoskin, dual board-certified in pain management and physical medicine and rehabilitation, who practices at Pain Management NYC.

Physical therapy to help strengthen and align joint movement will also help slow down the breakdown of joint tissue. According to Rodriguez Regner, the goal is to preserve the bones or joints we were born with.

“It is crucial to start physical therapy in order to restore range of motion and function,” advised Dvoskin, who added that only once all conservative and interventional options have been exhausted, will it be time to consider surgery.

George Citroner reports on health and medicine, covering topics that include cancer, infectious diseases, and neurodegenerative conditions. He was awarded the Media Orthopaedic Reporting Excellence (MORE) award in 2020 for a story on osteoporosis risk in men.
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