New research highlights genetic risk factors and potential therapeutic targets for osteoarthritis

Older man with osteoarthritis

In the largest study of osteoarthritis to date, scientists have identified new genetic risk factors for the condition, which they believe could now be successfully treated with repurposed, already licensed drugs.

The findings, published in Cell, represent a milestone in the development of the first curative treatment for osteoarthritis, which affects over 300 million individuals worldwide.

An international team of researchers from the Genetics of Osteoarthritis consortium conducted a genome-wide association study meta-analysis of 826,690 individuals (177,517 with osteoarthritis) and identified 100 unique and independently associated risk variants, 52 of which have not been associated with osteoarthritis before.

They reported the first thumb and spine osteoarthritis risk variants and identified differences in genetic effects between weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing joints.

They also identified for the first time sex-specific and early age-at-onset osteoarthritis risk loci, as well as novel evidence for genetic correlation with phenotypes related to pain, the main disease symptom, and identified likely causal genes linked to neuronal processes.

The authors say their research enhances the understanding of genetic aetiology of osteoarthritis, sheds novel biological insights, and provides a stepping stone for translating genetic associations into osteoarthritis drug development.

Co-author of the study Professor Mark Wilkinson, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Oncology and Metabolism, said: ‘Until now, there has been no curative treatment available for osteoarthritis. Our research has pinpointed genes for osteoarthritis which are already the targets of approved drugs, meaning we can reposition these drugs as potential treatments for osteoarthritis.’

Cindy Boer, of Erasmus MC Netherlands and co-first author of the article, said: ‘Because we have investigated osteoarthritis in multiple joints, we have also identified specific genetic changes that underpin the risk for all forms of osteoarthritis. Some of these genes may prove to be validated as therapeutic targets for osteoarthritis, regardless of the joint affected.’

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.