New treatment target discovered that halts osteoarthritis-like knee cartilage degeneration

There is currently no cure for osteoarthritis, but a group of scientists believe they’ve discovered a method through which a simple knee injection could potentially stop the disease’s effects. These researchers showed that they could target a specific protein pathway in an animal model, put it into overdrive and halt cartilage degeneration over time. Additionally, using nanomedicine treatment in the same pathway could dramatically reduce the cartilage degeneration and knee pain. These findings were published in Science Translational Medicine.

Person sitting on bed holding their hands over their injured knee.

“Our lab is one of the few in the world studying epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling in cartilage and, from the beginning, we have found that EGFR deficiency or inactivation accelerates osteoarthritis progression in mice,” says Ling Qin, an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery. “Thus, we proposed that its activation could be used to treat osteoarthritis, and in this study, we’ve proven for the first time that overactivating it inside the knee blocks the progression of osteoarthritis.”

Qin explained that tests from the other labs that do work with EGFR have drawn “confusing and controversial” results. But Qin’s lab has consistently found the ties between osteoarthritis and EGFR deficiencies, which formed the bedrock of their hypothesis.

With all of this knowledge gained, the researchers turned an eye toward potential clinical treatment solutions. In a new series of tests they created nanotherapeutics by attaching a potent EGFR ligand onto synthetic nanoparticles, to inject into mice who already had cartilage damage in their knees.

This story is by Frank Otto. Read more at Penn Medicine News.