Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common, crippling age-related disease characterized by the gradual destruction of cartilage cushioning the joints. To assess cartilage erosion, doctors routinely rely on measurement of the joint space width using radiographs. To be visible on an X-ray film, however, significant cartilage degradation must have already occurred. By the time radiographs reveal destruction, the damage to the joint is usually irreversible. Due to this method’s relatively insensitive nature, it also takes at least a year or two to detect progression of damage that has been captured on radiographs.
To improve the early diagnosis and effective treatment of OA, medical researchers have turned to the promise of biochemical markers – molecules released into bodily fluids during the process of tissue turnover. Recently, researchers in the Netherlands identified a novel marker linked to both the prevalence and the progression of OA, particularly at the knee and the hip. They share their breakthrough findings in the August 2004 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism.
Building on the analysis of cartilage metabolism, the researchers concentrated on peptide fragments of type II collagen. Since type II collagen is located almost exclusively in cartilage, a fragment – abbreviated as CTX-II – was seen as a potential marker for cartilage destruction. To determine the relationship between CTX-II and OA, researchers drew on a large, established sample: 1,235 men and women ages 55 and older enrolled in the Rotterdam Study, a long-term research effort to investigate the incidence of, and risk factors for, chronic disabling diseases. Researchers followed up with participants, whose average was 66, over a time span of six-and-a-half years.
David Greenberg | EurekAlert!
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