, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 141-161
Date: 01 Sep 2012

Disease-Modifying Therapies for Osteoarthritis

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Abstract

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is a debilitating progressive disease principally affecting the elderly. Osteoarthritis therapy has evolved in the past few decades from symptomatic treatment to possible disease-modifying solutions. In this paper, the pathophysiology of osteoarthritis is first reviewed, including an examination of the mechanisms underlying osteoarthritis and discussions of the roles of cartilage, synovial fluid and subchondral bone. The remainder of the paper discusses therapeutic approaches in current use and those in development, with special attention given to pharmacological treatments. Current approaches to treating osteoarthritis — i.e. medications; nonpharmacological modalities, such as physical therapy, exercise, weight management and orthotics; and (as a last resort) surgery — focus on reducing pain and improving (or at least maintaining) mobility. Drugs currently used to treat osteoarthritis fall into several categories: analgesics, NSAIDs, cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors, corticosteroids, viscosupplementation, and symptomatic slow-acting drugs (‘nutraceuticals’). The analgesics (paracetamol [acetaminophen] and opiates) have demonstrated less symptomatic efficacy than NSAIDs, while the latter have displayed mixed results in terms of joint space narrowing. COX-2 inhibitors have been demonstrated to be equal to or superior to NSAIDs in effectiveness. However, once considered a safer alternative, COX-2 inhibitors have become the subject of intense scrutiny since recent clinical evidence has cast suspicion on their cardiovascular safety profile. Injectable therapies, such as corticosteroids and viscosupplementation have elicited favorable short-term response but no long-term structural modification. On the other hand, the slow-acting drugs, especially chondroitin and glucosamine sulfate, have shown promising results. Also reviewed are other established and experimental therapies that seek to modify and/or even reverse the course of osteoarthritis. These include such medications as colchicine, bisphosphonates and hormones; dietary therapeutics, such as ginger extract and green tea; and such truly experimental treatments as matrix metalloproteinase inhibitors, cytokines, nitric oxide, growth factors and gene therapy. Osteoarthritis continues to be a difficult disorder to treat, as there is no cure as such and current treatments focus mainly on relieving pain and maintaining joint function. The search nevertheless continues for management regimens that can slow, alter or reverse the degenerative processes of osteoarthritis.