This story of hope comes to us from the Kansas City Star.
Researchers using arthritic dogs to find answer for humans
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Chief, 6, and his owner, Carolyn Kinser, 53, of Ashland, wait patiently in an exam room at the University of Missouri veterinary medical clinic.
When people enter the room, the mottled brown mutt lumbers off the floor to greet them with a wag and a lick. But it’s clear that Chief has a problem. He won’t put weight on his left hind leg.
Dr. James “Jimi” Cook delivers the diagnosis: Chief has torn a ligament that helps stabilize the knee, ripped cartilage that cushions the joint and developed arthritis. He will need surgery.
Kinser and Chief are kindred spirits. Three small, pink lines on Kinser’s knee announce her recent surgery to repair torn cartilage and smooth damage from arthritis.
Cook directs the Comparative Orthopedic Laboratory at the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he is focused on finding relief from arthritis for pets and their people. He and his colleagues are learning which molecular changes lead to arthritis so that one day they may be able to stop the disease before it causes painful damage.
Cook also is pioneering a customized replacement joint built from real bone and cartilage instead of metal and plastic. He is testing it in laboratory dogs. If it’s successful in dogs, it eventually could help the 300,000 people each year who get knee replacements.
About 20 percent of dogs over age 1 have arthritis, Cook said. And it’s a disease humans know well.
“Anyone who lives past age 45 will begin to develop some signs and symptoms of arthritis. It’s a fairly universal problem,” said Dr. Jason Calhoun, chairman of the department of orthopedics at the University of Missouri. The degenerative joint disease is the leading cause of disability in people over 15 years old.
Arthritis remedies may help relieve some discomfort but don’t stop the disease. That could be a matter of bad timing, Cook said.
“The only time we know to give them (arthritis drugs) is when you come in and say ‘my knee hurts,’ but by that time, we’ve lost the battle,” Cook said.
He and colleague Aaron Stoker are looking for the earliest signs that arthritis is starting. The researchers take MRIs and blood samples from dogs with knee injuries. Arthritis is often brought on by injury, overusing the joint, or by genetics and environmental causes. But no one knows the order of steps that lead some people and animals to the disease.
Cook and Stoker have found 16 genes in dogs that change production patterns after a knee injury and are associated with later arthritis. All of those genes are found in people, too. Researchers have no idea what some of the genes do, but others are clearly involved in inflammation, or building or tearing down bone and cartilage.
The discoveries could lead to drugs or supplements that could block arthritis from getting started.