Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and University of Maryland School of Medicine are recruiting patients for the largest multi-center study ever conducted on osteoarthritis of the knee (knee OA). The Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI) is a 7-year project that will collect x-rays, blood samples, and function and health measures from 5000 men and women over the age of 50 at risk for knee OA, including 1,250 from the Baltimore area. Volunteers will range in age from 45 to 79 and at least half will be African-American. Other institutions participating in the OAI around the nation include: Ohio State University, Columbus; University of Pittsburgh; Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, Pawtucket; and University of California San Francisco (data coordinating center).
Study participants will include those who already have symptoms of knee OA and those who are at increased risk for knee OA. Risk factors include knee pain, overweight, a knee injury or knee surgery. People with a relative who has had a knee replacement for OA and those with OA of the hands are also at increased risk for knee osteoarthritis.
Volunteers in the study will be asked to complete several questionnaires, have a physical examination of their knees and measurements of height, weight, pulse, blood pressure, and muscle strength. They will also make six visits over five years, when they will complete walking tests and provide blood and urine specimens. The study includes x-rays of the hands, hips and knees, and state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the knees.
“By collecting data on such a large number of participants, we will create a robust database that will be made available to researchers worldwide. The goal of the OAI is to merge resources and strengthen the commitment to identifying biomarkers for OA. We hope this will promote a better understanding of the cause of OA and will lead, in turn, to better treatments for OA,” comments Joan Bathon, M.D., Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Co- Principal Investigator of the study. Marc C. Hochberg, M.D., M.P.H., Principal Investigator, University of Maryland School of Medicine says “Current therapies are predominantly designed to relieve pain, but to treat the disease itself, we must understand its causes and identify potential targets in the disease process that may suggest new treatment strategies.”
OA is the most common form of arthritis and the major cause of physical disability in older people. It is a chronic disease that breaks down cartilage, the shock absorbing tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. With the cartilage gone, the bones rub against each other, resulting in pain and loss of motion in the joint.
OA curbs the activity and mobility of 80% of the people who have it. About 21 million American adults have been diagnosed with OA. By age 60, nearly half of the population has x-ray or other evidence of OA in one or more joints, most commonly the fingers, and by age 80, nearly all people have it.
Currently, x-ray images do not adequately reveal early damage from OA. The OAI will address that problem by using a new generation of MRI machines to achieve more accurate assessments of cartilage deterioration.
“Our hope is that the Osteoarthritis Initiative will take us to the next level in the clarity of diagnostic images. Those images will add enormously to our understanding of what the disease does to the body,” says Co-Investigator Charles S. Resnik, M.D., professor of diagnostic radiology and orthopaedics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of Musculoskeletal Radiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Those interested in learning more about the study and how to participate should call 1-866-565-KNEE (5633).
Funding for the Osteoarthritis Initiative consortium comes from the NIH and several pharmaceutical companies: GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Co., Inc., Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation and Pfizer.