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New blood test could provide early diagnosis of osteoarthritis

Picture of Dr. Naila Rabbani


Researchers at the University of Warwick have developed a new blood test to diagnosis early-stage arthritis years before the onset of physical and irreversible symptoms. The study, published in the journal Arthritis Research and Therapy, states that the test provides early diagnosis of osteoarthritis (OA). The test can distinguish between early OA and early-stage rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other self-resolving inflammatory joint diseases.

The test identifies the chemical signatures found in the plasma of blood joint proteins damaged by oxidation, nitration and glycation (the modification of proteins with oxygen, nitrogen and sugar molecules).

The study involved taking blood and fluid samples from patients with knee joint early-stage and advanced OA and RA or other inflammatory joint disease (non-RA) and a control group of those with good skeletal health. Investigators looked at damaged proteins and characteristic patterns between the two groups. They found that the damaged proteins were found at lower levels in the control group, informing researchers of the identifiable biomarkers necessary for early detection and diagnosis. To read the full study report, please click here.

The development of this test will address the limitations in current diagnostic tests. Currently, magnetic resonance imaging techniques are used to evaluate cartilage damage in early-stage OA. This technique requires expensive equipment, time, and facilities. Furthermore, this technique cannot be used in patients with implanted pacemakers. Another test considered state-of-the-art is the anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (CCP) antibody test in RA diagnosis. This test assesses your citrullinated protein levels, which is increased in patients with early RA and OA.

Lead researcher Dr. Naila Rabbani of Warwick Medical School said: “Damage to proteins in the arthritic joints have been known for many years but this is the first time it has been exploited for early-stage diagnosis. For the first time we measured small fragments from damaged proteins that leak from the joint into the blood. The combination of changes in oxidized, nitrated and sugar-modified amino acids in blood enabled early stage detection and classification of arthritis – osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or other self-resolving inflammatory joint disease.”

Rabbani and her team hopes that the test will be available within two years.