British researchers, from the University of Liverpool, have discovered a new mechanism of arthritic joint destruction, which was previously only found in horses. The scientists made the discovery in human hip bones.
A material that grinds away cartilage, and worsens cases of osteoarthritis, causes the joint damage.
The discovery was made when the scientists were studying a case of alkaptonuria, a genetic condition, in the hip of an elderly patient. Alkaptonuria is a metabolic disease in which changes are made to the physical properties of joint cartilage.
The scientists observed the appearance of protrusions which have only ever been found before in horses. The protrusions are a result of the body trying to fill the gaps of missing joint cartilage, creating sharp particles in the joint that grind against healthy tissue.
“In effect these small, sharp particles could act like an abrasive powder scouring the surfaces of the joint,” said Professor Jim Callagher, who pioneered the investigations.
“Because of our work on alkaptonuria, we are now able to add a new piece to the puzzle of an illness that affects millions.”
Renewed interest in the condition may ultimately result in new treatment protocols, which is potentially good news for horses.