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May 29, 2020  
SHOULDER NEWS: Feature Story

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  • Man’s Best Friend Helps with Arthritis Research

    Man’s Best Friend Helps with Arthritis Research


    January 20, 2006

    By: Shelagh McNally for Shoulder1

    There are more than 200 types of arthritis and, according to the Arthritis Foundation, one in three Americans suffers from some form of chronic joint pain. That’s close to 66 million people in the United States alone. These are infuriating diseases because, while there are preventive measures and medicine to help, there is no cure. Once arthritis has taken hold of a joint there is no way to reverse the damage.

    Learn More
    Are you developing arthritis pain?

    Symptoms may vary depending but the most common symptoms are:

  • Pain in the joint

  • Cramping of muscles

  • Weakness during activity such as dropping things

  • Pins and needles

  • Clumsiness

  • Stiffness in the morning or after a period of inactivity

    Consult with your doctor if you are experiencing any of these ongoing symptoms

  • A team of researchers and their canine friends are hoping to change that. The Compartive Orthopaedic Laboratory at the University of Missouri-Columbia is looking at ways to use healthy tissue to rejuvenate arthritic joints and stop the onslaught of arthritis and rheumatic disease. The multi-disciplinary team consisted of James Cook, a professor of veterinary medicine and surgery along with Aaron Stoker, and Robert B. Gordon, research fellows and experts in cartilage gene expression. The team is looking for various biomarkers in the blood and other bodily fluids to track changes that happen with arthritis. “There's no current cure for arthritis, but that's because we can't diagnose the disease while it is in a stage that is reversible,” said James Cook.

    What’s fascinating about it is that instead of humans, dogs are being used as test subjects. Man’s best friend turns out to be the perfect candidate because dogs share many of the same symptoms but get the disease much sooner and it progresses much more quickly. In his preliminary study, Cook was able to track the specific changes that three specific genes underwent while operating on arthritis-inducing injuries in dogs. He used specific MRI techniques to identify ongoing problems four weeks after the injury and track the kinds of changes that happen.

    Take Action
    Three main types of exercises are recommended for arthritis:

  • Daily stretching will increase and maintain joint mobility and joint function. Move the joint as far as it will comfortably go and stretch a little further each day.

  • Strength-building exercises like weight training, done without moving the joints, will help increase muscle strength and stabilize weak joints. A daily regime is best.

  • Endurance exercises such as walking, swimming and bicycling will increase stamina and strengthen the heart and lungs. Three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes is recommended.

  • “The specific injury that we studied led to articular cartilage degradation, or damage to the cartilage in the knee,” Cook said. “This degradation is the hallmark of osteoarthritis, and while we can accurately assess clinical changes associated with the degradation of arthritis, we cannot clinically assess the initiating events that occur in the potentially reversible stages of disease. Through our research, we have found specific genes that are expressed in the areas where degradation will subsequently occur, which may allow us to accurately predict the extent and severity of how the arthritis will develop.” The findings may allow doctors to accurately predict the extent and severity of the developing arthritis using those specific genes and then prescribe preventive measures.

    Cook and his team are also using in vitro models; cell and tissues are grown and put under simulated stresses which can occur during physical activities that often induce arthritis. The lab looks at the reactions but also tests how cells can be influenced not to develop arthritis or how they respond to various treatments. While the lab is not the first to study osteoarthritis in vitro, it is the first to compare its findings with results of other kinds of research, searching for a commonality that may lead to some kind of cure. The in vitro lab work caught the eye of the Iams Co., the international dog and cat food producer, who donated half a million dollars to the lab as a way of thanking Cook and his associates for reducing the number of live animals being used in research. Kurt Iverson, spokesman for Iams commented that the research being done by the MU lab fits with the company’s mission of enhancing the well being of dogs and cats. It looks like humans just may benefit as well.

    Last updated: 20-Jan-06

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