A gene therapy to relieve pain and reduce subsequent damage to joints affected by osteoarthritis was successful in animal trials conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester.
The mice in the study were genetically engineered to develop osteoarthritis like humans. They received a gene therapy that increased by about one thousand times the number of opioid (naturally occurring painkillers) receptors expressed on the surfaces of nerve cells that carry pain messages back and forth between an osteoarthritic jaw joint and the spinal cord. Since researchers found the nerve cells involved in pain transmission, and are able to expand the number of receptors on their surfaces, the result is that the nerves became drastically more responsive to the naturally occurring painkiller. The gene therapy was delivered by injection at the joint.
“Our publication represents the first proof that gene therapy can work in a way that is clinically applicable,” said Stephanos Kyrkanides, DDS, PhD, associate professor of dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “This therapy can simply be injected anywhere in an injured joint, and the treatment will find the nerve endings.” Kyrkanides’ work on genetics in dentistry led to broader applications; the common ground between arthritis and dentistry is the jaw joint.
Kyrkanides is now partnering with researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. They are looking to see whether this therapeutic gene can be delivered by another vector already approved as safe for experimental gene therapy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. If successful, the team may be able to apply for phase I human clinical trials, perhaps within 18 months.
Illustration: MicroSoft clipart.
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