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Drug May Help Prevent Women's Osteoarthritis
July 30, 2007
Preliminary research in rats suggests that an existing drug could help older women stop osteoarthritis in its tracks.
The drug, known as calcitonin, is currently used to treat osteoporosis.
According to tests in female rats, it shows promise as a possible
treatment for osteoarthritis in older, postmenopausal women.
Patients "should be hopeful," said study co-author Morten A. Karsdal,
head of pharmacology at Nordic Bioscience, a biotech company that is
studying the drug's prospects as an arthritis treatment.
However, testing in humans won't end for another three years, and
there's no guarantee that the drug will work as well in humans as in
The study is published in the August issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.
Osteoarthritis affects an estimated 10 percent of Americans, and 80 percent of those over 55; women are especially vulnerable.
Hips and knees can be especially susceptible, said Dr. J.C. Gallagher,
director of the Bone Metabolism Unit at Creighton University Medical
School in Omaha, Neb. "For many, pain on exercise is the major problem.
As a result, they stop exercising, and this leads to an increase in
body weight which increases the 'load' on the joints and worsens the
There are numerous treatments to relieve osteoarthritis pain but none
to stop the wear and tear on the bone, joints and cartilage.
Karsdal said it is important to treat both loss of bone and loss of
cartilage, the elastic tissue that helps bones tolerate moving against
each other. "When bone turnover increases after menopause, due to lower
estrogen production, a secondary effect is seen on cartilage, more
cartilage is lost," Karsdal said. "Ideally, all drugs that may be
developed for osteoarthritis will be able to affect both bone and
cartilage, as both are in disequilibrium in osteoarthritis."
In the new study, researchers removed the ovaries of
female rats, turning them into rough equivalents of postmenopausal
women -- at least when it comes to their skeletons.
Some of the rats received calcitonin or estrogen, while some got nothing; a separate group of rats had no ovary operation.
The researchers found that calcitonin worked better than estrogen at preventing joint deterioration.
"The suggestion from this work is that estrogen
deficiency after menopause is important," said Gallagher, who's
familiar with the study findings.
Calcitonin is currently available as a nasal spray and
an injection, although those forms haven't been investigated as
possible osteoarthritis treatments, Karsdal said. In the United States,
doctors can use approved drugs for "off-label" uses that are not
The oral form, which was tested in the study, is not on the market.
The next step in research is to investigate whether
calcitonin could bring the development of osteoarthritis to a halt,
Karsdal said. Two ongoing studies in humans should hopefully "provide a
novel and effective treatment for osteoarthritis," although they won't
be finished for three years, Karsdal said.
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