New osteoarthritis genes discovered, paving way for new therapies

Our researchers at the University of Sheffield have collaborated on the largest study of its kind to discover nine novel genes for osteoarthritis which could lead to new therapies to treat the debilitating disease in the future.

Ten million people in the UK suffer from osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease in which a person’s joints become damaged, stop moving freely and become painful. Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent musculoskeletal disease and a leading cause of disability worldwide.

An illustration comparing a healthy knee to one with oesteoarthritis

There is currently no treatment for osteoarthritis. The disease is managed with pain relief and culminates in joint replacement surgery, which has variable outcomes.

Scientists from our university and their collaborators investigated the genetics behind osteoarthritis, as well as the diseases and traits that are linked to it.

The team studied 16.5 million DNA variations from the UK Biobank resource. Following combined analysis in up to 30,727 people with osteoarthritis and nearly 300,000 people without osteoarthritis in total, scientists discovered nine new genes that were associated with osteoarthritis, a significant breakthrough for this disease.

Ms Eleni Zengini, joint first author from the University and Dromokaiteio Psychiatric Hospital in Athens, said: “These results are an important step towards understanding the genetic causes of osteoarthritis and take us closer to uncovering the mechanisms behind the disease. Once we know that, it opens the door to developing new therapies for this debilitating disease.”

The study also explored the correlation between osteoarthritis and obesity, bone mineral density, type 2 diabetes and raised blood lipid levels. Whilst the research found that type 2 diabetes and high levels of lipids in the blood do not have an effect on osteoarthritis, it reaffirmed that obesity does.