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Innovative Blood Test Predicts Knee Osteoarthritis

— July 8, 2024

Duke Health identifies blood test predicting knee osteoarthritis up to eight years early.

Researchers at Duke Health recently revealed the findings of their study, led by Dr. Virginia Byers Kraus, a professor of rheumatology at Duke University Medical Center, which offers hope for the earlier detection of knee osteoarthritis (OA), a joint disease caused by bone density deterioration. The team has identified a new blood test said to predict the onset of knee OA in women up to eight years before it’s visible on X-rays, the tool most commonly used for diagnosis.

Osteoarthritis is a relatively common condition that develops as a result of decreasing levels of cartilage, the thickening of bones, and inflammation. It can be the result of many different factors, including age, hormonal imbalances, and lifestyle choices. The rate of bone breakdown tends to surpass the rate of bone formation as humans age, leading to lower bone density overall. Estrogen also decreases in women during menopause, accelerating this loss. Consuming an insufficient amount of calcium and vitamin D in the diet, living a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption can all contribute to the development of the disease, as can some medical conditions and medications which impact bone health.

Loss of bone density can lead to chronic pain that is severe. Knee osteoporosis, in particular, can cause pain in knees that increases with movement – usually as benign as walking – and engaging in any weight-bearing activities. Patients may also experience joint stiffness, particularly first thing in the morning or after being sedative for some time, swelling, and a decreased range of motion around the knee area. These symptoms greatly reduce quality of life, making it too difficult to get about and enjoy the same activities a person did when they were younger.

Innovative Blood Test Predicts Knee Osteoarthritis
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya from Pexels

Imaging techniques have been commonly used to identify the presence of osteoporosis, but these only reveal the disease after significant joint damage has already occurred and it becomes visible in X-rays. Oftentimes, treatment options are limited at that point, and outcomes are not as successful.

“It’s actually telling about joint damage and very low-grade inflammation that’s typical for osteoarthritis, that is identifying these at-risk people,” Dr. Kraus stated, adding this is what makes early detection important.

“There’s not as much change, not as much damage, the disability isn’t there yet [with detection via the new blood test],” she explained, adding, “So, everybody in the field agrees that if you could treat it earlier, it could be much easier…These findings demonstrate that the disease process of osteoarthritis can precede symptoms and X-ray changes that we typically associate with a diagnosis.”

The study, which involved the participation of 200 female participants in the U.K., represents a call to action for further research to perfect the tool and bring it to market. It’s scientific advancements like these that have allowed interventions and treatment outcomes to be much more successful. Getting ahead of osteoporosis can make all the difference in how a person is able to spend the latter half of their life.


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