The God Pill: has a cure for ageing been found?

arthritis-cure-for-rebuiling-knee-cartilageScientists have spent many years and many millions, trying to find a ‘cure’ for ageing, whether that’s reversing progressive hair loss or erasing wrinkles. However, these are just the visible signs of ageing and a more exciting proposition would be to discover a panacea for the aches and pains that plague us as we grow older.

Osteoarthritis is a progressive condition, caused by wear and tear, and it’s thought that over 8.7 million people in the UK have sought treatment for osteoarthritis, with just over half of those presenting with arthritis of the knee . And, the cost of osteoarthritis to the UK government is staggering. In a study entitled ‘The Global Economic Cost of Osteoarthritis: How the UK Compares’, it was estimated that costs of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), typically the first line of defence, exceed £44.85 million. Further, indirect costs include the impact on the country’s economy, thought to exceed £3.2 billion and the many further millions devoted to community and social services for those suffering from osteoarthritis.

What is osteoarthritis of the knee?

Arthritis of the knee is a result of the cartilage within the knee, the tough, flexible tissue that covers the end of the bones, thinning to the point that the ends of the bones rub against each other. Cartilage works like a shock absorber to spread load evenly across your joint and as your knees have to work extra hard bearing your body weight, the knee joint has extra cartilage rings between the bones called the menisci.

This can be an incredibly debilitating condition with a great deal of pain and loss of mobility. So, the news that a US pharmaceutical company was developing drugs that could reverse a number of ageing concerns, including the possibility of regrowing knee cartilage, is very interesting.

A new arthritis drug breakthrough?

At the end of last year, Samumed announced to the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology that they had seen success with clinical trials of a drug that regenerates knee cartilage in animals, slowing down joint space narrowing, one of the markers of osteoarthritis.

The drug works by inhibiting the Wnt signaling pathways that control how different tissue cells regenerate, whether that’s hair, bone or cartilage. Wnt stands for ‘wingless integration site’ because when you tamper with it in fruit flies they never grow wings. The data that Samumed presented at the meeting showed, in rat models, that a single injection of SMO4690 grew cartilage in the knee joints. A further limited study of 61 patients, with 49 taking SMO4690 and 12 taking a placebo, found it to be potentially effective in slowing down or reversing the narrowing of a joint space.

The good news is that SMO4690 seems to be very safe for human use, but, in terms of efficacy, the patient numbers of the clinical trials are far too small for any definite conclusions to be drawn as to whether this is a long-term solution to osteoarthritis.

For more information on the treatment options that are currently available, please call 08450 60 44 99 and arrange a consultation with Mr Jonathan Webb at either his Bristol or London clinics.