Biomarkers for OA

Now doctors may have another tool to treat the all-too-common pain of osteoarthritis (OA). Research presented at the European League Against Rheumatism's annual meeting in Paris on June 11 shows a relationship between certain biomarkers—called microRNAs (MiRNAs)—in the blood and the development of severe OA in the knee and hip joints. 

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How Does the Test Work?

MiRNAs are tiny, noncoding molecules that work to regulate gene expression (which genes are expressed and to what degree). The presence of these specific miRNAs give researchers an insight into who is likely to develop OA, also known as "wear-and-tear" arthritis.

MiRNAs are particularly helpful biomarkers, the researchers explained, because they are stable and easily accessible in the bloodstream.

"These results indicate that for the first time we will be able to predict the risk of severe osteoarthritis, before the disease starts to significantly impact a person's life, allowing us to take preventative action early on,” said Dr. Christian Beyer, lead study author, from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, in a press release. "Through the early identification of osteoarthritis we can decrease both the impact of the disease on individuals and the major socio-economic burden severe disease poses." 

In this study, more than 800 patients were monitored over a 15-year period. Researchers identified three specific miRNA molecules—let-7e, miR-454 and miR-885-5p—that appeared more often in patients with severe OA in the knee or hip. Joint arthroplasty, or joint replacement, was used as a measure of the severity of a patient's disease. At the 15-year follow-up mark, 67 of the 816 participants had had at least one joint replacement surgery, one of the more serious repercussions of OA.

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How Does OA Affect You?

More research is needed to figure out how to block OA at its source, but OA patients, including those in the Healthline's Living with Osteoarthritis Facebook community, rely on studies like this one to pave the way for targeted OA treatments.

Community member Yolanda Olivas said she experienced pain for about a year and a half before she was diagnosed with OA. She manages her symptoms with painkillers when necessary and as much rest as possible. “Try not to do everything in one day,” she recommended. 

Another Healthline community member, Helen Carter, said she has suffered from chronic pain since she was 13, and had her first hip surgery when she was 15. “There was no support that I was aware of available,” she said. Carter now prefers alternative therapies for the pain, such as acupuncture and massage.

Many of Healthline's osteoarthritis community members reported that their doctors were unsympathetic or incorrect in their diagnoses. A blood test to identify early signs of the condition could go a long way toward more compassionate and competent treatment.