New ex­per­i­men­tal drug to trans­form arthri­tis treat­ment

The Star Early Edition - - HEALTH -

LON­DON: A drug that “spring cleans” joints by mop­ping up old cells could trans­form arthri­tis treat­ment.

The ex­per­i­men­tal drug, called UBX0101, is in­jected into ma­jor joints such as the knees or hips af­fected by os­teoarthri­tis. Once in­side, it de­stroys “senes­cent” cells. Th­ese are for­merly healthy cells which have stopped di­vid­ing and now ac­cu­mu­late in the joints.

Re­cent re­search sug­gests senes­cent cells may con­trib­ute to painful con­di­tions such as os­teoarthri­tis by se­cret­ing chem­i­cals that in­crease in­flam­ma­tion.

Early re­sults sug­gest the rev­o­lu­tion­ary new drug not only stops joint da­m­age in its tracks by wip­ing out many of th­ese harm­ful cells but even al­lows car­ti­lage – the body’s in-built shock ab­sorber which gets bro­ken down in os­teoarthri­tis – to re­new it­self.

As the body ages, ma­jor joints such as the hips, knees and wrists suf­fer wear and tear. But other risk fac­tors in­clude be­ing over­weight, a fam­ily his­tory of the con­di­tion and sports injuries.

Car­ti­lage soaks up the im­pact from walk­ing, run­ning or lift­ing, so bones do not rub to­gether. But in os­teoarthri­tis, the car­ti­lage starts to break down and as bones come into con­tact, the fric­tion makes joints swollen and painful. There are no drugs to cure it and many pa­tients rely on anti-in­flam­ma­tory painkillers.

While th­ese help, they can da­m­age the stom­ach if used for long pe­ri­ods. Se­vere cases may be treated with steroid in­jec­tions.

The new drug is based on a rel­a­tively re­cent the­ory that in­flam­ma­tion caused by senes­cent cells may con­trib­ute to a range of ill­nesses, in­clud­ing os­teoarthri­tis and heart prob­lems. Cells con­tin­u­ally di­vide at a steady rate. Rapid, un­con­trolled di­vi­sion is one of the hall­marks of can­cer. To com­bat this, cel­lu­lar senes­cence is the body’s way of re­sist­ing tu­mour growth by act­ing as an emer­gency brake. Senes­cent cells no longer repli­cate but are still alive, float­ing in the blood­stream.

They also play a role in the re­pair of wounds by send­ing out sig­nals for im­mune sys­tem cells to clean up and re­pair the da­m­age. But sci­en­tists have found that, in knee joints and car­ti­lage in par­tic­u­lar, they are not cleared out prop­erly after that ini­tial trauma.

A team of sci­en­tists from Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity in Bal­ti­more, US, stud­ied mice with injuries to the an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment – a com­mon knee in­jury in hu­mans which raises the risk of os­teoarthri­tis. Two weeks after the in­jury, the mice had the drug in­jected into their knees.

The re­sults, pub­lished in Na­ture Medicine, showed the num­ber of senes­cent cells in­stantly halved and that the jab ac­ti­vated genes in­volved in car­ti­lage re­pair.

Sep­a­rate tests on hu­man car­ti­lage in the lab showed that, four days after ex­po­sure to the drug, lev­els of senes­cent cells in the car­ti­lage plum­meted and the car­ti­lage showed signs of re­grow­ing.

The firm be­hind the jab, Unity Biotech­nol­ogy, based in Cal­i­for­nia, hopes to start tri­als on hu­mans next year.

Philip Con­aghan, professor of mus­cu­loskele­tal medicine at Leeds Univer­sity, wel­comed the drug. “This is con­cep­tu­ally re­ally in­ter­est­ing. But we need ma­jor clin­i­cal tri­als be­fore get­ting too ex­cited.”

Mean­while, sci­en­tists have found senes­cent cells play a part in liver dis­eases and have de­vised a treat­ment for this. Con­di­tions such as fatty liver dis­ease and cir­rho­sis (both cause the sup­ple liver to stiffen and mal­func­tion) oc­cur even among the tee­to­tal.

Sci­en­tists now be­lieve this may be be­cause as we age, the mi­to­chon­dria, the cell “bat­ter­ies” that nor­mally gen­er­ate en­ergy, stop us­ing up fat and store it in­stead.

The jour­nal Na­ture Com­mu­ni­ca­tions re­ports that killing senes­cent cells in the liver re­duces fatty build up. Re­searchers hope to test the treat­ment on hu­mans soon. – Daily Mail

‘This is con­cep­tu­ally re­ally in­ter­est­ing’

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