Osteoarthritis, a currently irreversible condition is a real pain in the leg. And diagnosing it is a bit complicated. Researchers have discovered a method that is potentially faster, cheaper and safe for patients who had to avoid MRI scans and X-rays.
In 10 seconds? Ultrasound could soon be the way to spot osteoarthritis. Currently, we use it to see how organs or tissues deform in real-time. We found a way to track this change in cartilage too, which could help trace the damage that leads to this painful condition. (Read the science)
So, when will ultrasound be available? Well, this is ongoing research, so stay tuned! For now, we’ve proved in the lab that the method works on cow knee cartilage. The next step is to apply it to human cartilage and make correlations between deformation patterns and the degree of osteoarthritis. To make it handy for practical applications, we aim to design a hand-held device that both applies slight pressure to the tissue and registers its deformations patterns to establish tissue health. (More on a possible model for the device)
Why is osteoarthritis hard to catch in its early phase?
In my research, I’ve worked with both bone and cartilage. Unlike bone, cartilage is pretty high-maintenance: it’s soft and wobbly, full of water, and it doesn’t always warn you it’s damaged.
That’s why sometimes osteoarthritis starts from a small cartilage defect that you never knew you had. In the end the cartilage wears away letting the bone ends rub against each other and a knee replacement might be necessary.
We hope, in the future, to use our ultrasound method to find out that tiny defect even before you experience any physical symptoms. This way, patients can get appropriate treatment for their cartilage from the earliest stages of osteoarthritis.
In the meantime there is an ongoing clinical trial testing a new painkilling method, known as radiofrequency ablation. It involves blocking the nerves in the knee from sending pain signals to the brain.