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“In essence, it’s repurposing an existing drug,” says Alan Grodzinsky, senior author of the study, a professor of biological, mechanical and electrical engineering, and the director of MIT’s Center for Biomedical Engineering.
Grodzinsky and his colleagues report their findings in the Sept. 2 issue of the journal Arthritis Research and Therapy. Other authors of the paper are Yihong Lu, a recent MIT biological engineering PhD recipient, and Christopher Evans, the Maurice Edmond Mueller Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School.
Severe joint injuries are more common in younger people, who are likelier to participate in sports such as basketball or skiing in which they are at a higher risk of tearing ligaments such as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Military service and car accidents are also common sources of joint injuries in young people.
In most cases, the patient is treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. Weeks or months later, they might have surgery to stabilize the joint.
In about 50 percent of those cases, the patient’s cartilage steadily breaks down after the injury, eventually leading to arthritis, says Martin Lotz, professor of molecular and experimental medicine at the Scripps Research Institute, who was not involved in this study. Currently there is no way to prevent this cartilage degradation.
“There’s an opportunity here,” Lotz says of the MIT strategy of immediate intervention. “If you go in during this time, you would not only improve joint pain and swelling, you could actually reduce the risk of arthritis developing.”