The diagnosis of early-stage arthritis, before the onset of physical and irreversible symptoms, could soon be possible thanks to a new test developed by researchers at the University of Warwick.
The team, led by Dr Naila Rabbani, developed a test that can provide an early diagnosis of osteoarthritis (OA) and also distinguish this from early-stage rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other self-resolving inflammatory joint disease.
The test, which could be available within two years, identifies the chemical signatures found in the plasma of blood joint proteins that have been damaged by oxidation, nitration and glycation.
The researchers say that by diagnosing arthritis at an early-stage allows treatment to be tailored to provide the best chance for effective results and potential prevention.
People with early-stage and advanced OA, RA or other inflammatory joint disease were recruited for the study alongside a control group of individuals with good skeletal health. Plasma and synovial fluid samples from both groups were analysed using mass spectrometry.
Through their analysis the researchers detected damaged proteins in characteristic patterns in the samples of those people with early and advanced OA and RA, and noted that these were found at markedly lower levels in the samples of those people in the control group. This provided the researchers with the identifiable biomarkers necessary for early detection and diagnosis.
“Damage to proteins in the arthritic joint has been known for many years but this is the first time it has been exploited for early-stage diagnosis” said Dr Rabbani.
“For the first time we measured small fragments from damaged proteins that leak from the joint into blood. The combination of changes in oxidised, nitrated and sugar-modified amino acids in blood enabled early stage detection and classification of arthritis – osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or other self-resolving inflammatory joint disease.
“This is a big step forward for early-stage detection of arthritis that will help start treatment early and prevent painful and debilitating disease.”
The research is published by Arthritis Research and Therapy.