Looking over the records of all the medications Simi Pharmacy sells, we see that nearly a quarter of them are intended for people with arthritis.
This not surprising. Center for Disease Control statistics put the number of adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis at 58.5 million — that’s 24 per cent of the US population! Arthritis can take nearly 100 different forms but the most common one is osteoarthritis. Of all arthritis sufferers, about 55 per cent have osteoarthritis and a little over 2 per cent have even more serious rheumatoid arthritis.
If you have any form of arthritis we don’t have to tell you how painful it is. The cartilage cushion in your joints has gotten thinner and thinner until the ends of the bones are rubbing against each other and the whole joint is inflamed and stiff. Movement is painful and difficult.
You know that the condition can be unpredictable: relatively stable for years at a time in some patients, while in others it can get worse quickly.
And you know that at present arthritis can be managed but not cured. Moreover, the treatment can be costly. Getting a knee joint replaced carries (on average) a $30,000 price tag.
The sheer numbers of people affected by arthritis means that pharmaceutical companies are keenly interested in producing drugs that block the pain of arthritis. But the real Holy Grail of arthritis research is a formula or process that slows or stops loss of cartilage in the joints.
Again, it’s no surprise to learn that the solution to arthritis may be considerably more complicated than a drug.
Michigan Medicine, the academic medical center of the University of Michigan AT Ann Arbor, has plunged right in to this complicated quest. Researchers there have discovered previously unknown cell types that emerge in joints after injuries. “These are not found in healthy joints,” says the Center’s Dr Alex Knights.
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has given a $2.5 million grant to Michigan Medicine to carry out research. Ultimately, the NIAMSD wants a biomaterial-based drug delivery system targeting joint tissues.
Leading the research team is Dr Tristan Maerz, a biomedical engineer and Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Michigan. Dr Maerz explains that the newly discovered cells may provide a way to get at the problem. The team is after a drug that will act on these cells. He says: “This targeted approach would avoid the adverse effects of systemic treatment and reduce the burden of repeated joint injections.” Local delivery also minimizes the possibility for drug side effects on other tissues and organs, and it maximizes the drug benefit at the targeted site.
If the researchers at Michigan Medicine are successful, then for the first time it will be possible to go beyond treating the symptoms of arthritis and actually block the process of the disease.
It seems very likely that osteoarthritis sufferers will benefit from the work going on at Michigan Medicine … eventually.
THE BIG QUESTION IS HOW SOON.