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Researchers Beginning to Identify Genetic Culprits of Arthritis

Researchers hope to identify arthritis as early as possible in an effort to reverse its progression.Arthritis affects one in three Americans and is the leading// cause of disability in people over the age of 15, according to the Arthritis Foundation. While doctors have been able to treat the disease and offer tips to avoid it, University of Missouri-Columbia researchers have identified telltale, genetic signs that indicate the early onset of arthritis.

"There's no current cure for arthritis, but that's because we can't diagnose the disease while it is in a stage that is reversible," said James Cook, a professor of veterinary medicine and surgery and the William C. Allen Endowed Scholar for Orthopaedic Research. "While some researchers are looking at various biomarkers in blood and other bodily fluids, we’ve identified 16 genes in the cartilage that may be involved with the onset of the disease."

Arthritis may occur due to injury, overloading of the joint, or genetic and environmental causes. In his current study, Cook is examining dogs that have the disease. While it might take years for humans to develop arthritis, dogs develop the signs and symptoms of the disease at a much faster rate. In his study, Cook uses specific MRI, arthroscopy and biochemical techniques to identity problems associated with arthritis, such as bone and cartilage damage. Then he identifies the genetic changes that correlate with the damage.

"The specific injury that we are studying leads to articular cartilage degradation, or damage to the cartilage in the knee," Cook said. "This degradation is the hallmark of osteoarthritis, and while we can accurately assess clinical changes associated with the degradation of arthritis, we cannot clinically assess the initiating events that occur in the potentially reversible stages of disease. Through our research, we have found specific genes that are expressed in the areas where degradation will subsequently occur, whi
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