Your grandma had it, your uncle has it, your mom has it and now you have osteoarthritis. Joint degeneration and inflammation runs in the family. Even though the effects of time, injury and aging contribute to the likeliness of developing arthritic joints, family history and genetics may be the largest contributing factor of all.
Hip, knee, hand and spine arthritis all seem to run in the family. In fact, the offspring of those who have had a total knee replacement are much more likely to develop worsening arthritis in the knee. Knowing your family medical history can help to predict whether or not you will experience joint degeneration and inflammation. (1) (2)
Beyond the value of knowing your family medical history is the vast amount of information found in the actual genetic code. Scientists are madly researching the genetic markers of osteoarthritis in the hopes of finding the Holy Grail that will cure all. Among the discoveries are genes that control the joint structure, genes that control inflammation and genes that control cartilage degeneration. For example, the mTOR gene that controls cartilage degeneration has been targeted for its potential to treat osteoarthritis.
In a recent animal study, the mTOR gene was either inhibited or eliminated by a drug in mice with osteoarthritis. Those mice that received the gene therapy had less severe arthritis. The human version of this type of gene therapy is still on the horizon, but the potential for a breakthrough cure for osteoarthritis is there. Other scientists have been trying to transfer genes to tissues of specific joints in order to preserve and regenerate cartilage. Another way in which gene therapy might help to slow the arthritic process down is by controlling inflammation. This particular gene therapy that reduces the amount of inflammation after injury has proved effective in dog experiments. But again, the practical applications of this type of therapy are still in the early stages of coming to market for the masses. (3) (4)
By exploring the genetic components of joint degeneration and inflammation, there is great potential for improved ability to diagnose and treat this debilitating disease. Instead of a cane or a walker being handed down in the family, the family heritage of osteoarthritis could also provide the basis for a cure. This information should bring great hope to the children who are currently observing the painful, debilitating effects of osteoarthritis in their parents and grandparents.
(1) Curr Rheumatol Rev. 2010;6(4):257-67 genetic markers
(2) Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2015 Feb;23(2):203-9 OA and TKA
(3) Drugs R D. 2015 Feb 17 mToR therapy
(4) Gene Ther. 2004 Feb;11(4):379-89