Researchers at ETH Zurich, Empa and the Norwegian research institute SINTEF are pursuing a new approach to treating arthritis. This is based on a polysaccharide, a long-chain sugar molecule, originating from brown algae. When chemically modified, this "alginate" reduces oxidative stress, has an anti-inflammatory effect in cell culture tests and suppresses the immune reaction against cartilage cells, thereby combating the causes of arthritis. The research is, however, still in its infancy.
Arthritis is the most-widespread joint disease, with around 90 percent of all people over 65 being affected to varying degrees, but this degenerative disease is also widespread amongst younger people. In arthritis, the cartilage in the joint, a type of protective layer on bones that "lubricates" the joint, degenerates over time.
This can be extremely painful for sufferers, because inflammatory reactions are associated with cartilage degeneration. In the later stages of the disease, bones are no longer adequately protected and can directly rub against each other.
Arthritis can affect all joints in the body, but most often affects the knee joint, hip joint and fingers. The disease has been considered incurable until now. Current treatment methods, such as anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers, mainly address the symptoms. Often, the only remaining option is an operation to replace the affected joint with an artificial one.
Initial research results are encouraging
In laboratory tests, the team led by ETHZ researcher Marcy Zenobi-Wong and Empa researcher Katharina Maniura has now succeeded, together with SINTEF in Norway, in identifying a substance with the potential to halt cartilage degeneration in joints. This substance is the polysaccharide alginate extracted from the stems of brown algae - or more precisely cuvie (Lat. Laminaria hyperborea), which is similar to specific extracellular biomolecules in cartilage.
The researchers chemically modified the alginate with sulfate groups and then added it in dissolved form to cell cultures to examine the reaction of various cell types to the modified polysaccharide. This revealed that alginate sulfate can significantly reduce oxidative stress, which is a frequent cause of cell damage or even cell death, and the more sulfate groups attached to the alginate molecule, the greater this reduction.
Alginate sulfate was also able to suppress the inflammatory reaction, again depending on the number of sulfate groups, and was able to down-regulate the expression of genes that trigger an inflammatory reaction in both human cartilage cells, known as chondrocytes, and in macrophages, the "scavenger cells" of our immune system. The algal molecules should therefore slow down cartilage degeneration. "The hope is that they can even stop this degeneration," says Empa researcher Markus Rottmar.
Further research work necessary
The alginate sulfates have so far only been tested in vitro, i.e. in the laboratory with cell cultures. However, the encouraging results mean that research will now continue. The next stage is to test the substances on animals. If this is also successful, clinical trials can then be conducted on people. These tests are, however, laborious and time-consuming. If everything were to work perfectly, it would still be a few years before arthritis patients could be treated with alginate sulfate.
Rainer Klose | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt
MicroRNA helps cancer evade immune system
19.09.2017 | Salk Institute
Ruby: Jacobs University scientists are collaborating in the development of a new type of chocolate
18.09.2017 | Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.
MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...
Pathogenic bacteria are becoming resistant to common antibiotics to an ever increasing degree. One of the most difficult germs is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a...
Scientists from the MPI for Chemical Energy Conversion report in the first issue of the new journal JOULE.
Cell Press has just released the first issue of Joule, a new journal dedicated to sustainable energy research. In this issue James Birrell, Olaf Rüdiger,...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
19.09.2017 | Event News
19.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
19.09.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering