ACL Feasibility Study Could Revolutionize Treatment for Osteoarthritis

The Arthritis Foundation awarded a $1 million, multi-institutional grant that could revolutionize future treatment for osteoarthritis (OA) and ignite a new era in drug discovery, as part of our research strategic goal to develop new interventions for OA. By studying anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears in the knee, a major risk factor for developing osteoarthritis, researchers seek to discover tools and treatments to detect and reverse OA before symptoms ever appear.

 More than 200,000 people in the US tear an ACL each year, often leading to a diagnosis of OA within 10 to 20 years. Arthritis is the nation’s leading cause of disability, and of the 50 million Americans who have the disease, 27 million of those have osteoarthritis (OA). This disease causes over one million joint replacements a year, and affects quality of life as much as heart disease and cancer. Presently, there are no medications to slow or stop OA and no tools to identify early stages of the disease.

 “ACL injury is an ideal model to study early events in OA,” says Dr. John Hardin, Arthritis Foundation director of osteoarthritis research.  “An ACL tear immediately triggers the OA disease process at a molecular and cellular level and it continues for one or more years.  If we can detect and measure these early changes, we could likely discover treatments to prevent or slow down the disease in the general population.”

 A team of researchers at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) will use the Arthritis Foundation grant to demonstrate the feasibility of using state-of-the-art technologies to monitor joint health after ACL injuries across multiple research centers. The team will test the ability of new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques to measure the molecular changes that begin to occur immediately after an ACL tear. The study will demonstrate the feasibility of using these MRI techniques in clinical trials of components that can potentially treat OA.

 “This partnership is an integral part of the emerging field of precision medicine, which aims to harness the vast advances in technology, genetics and biomedical research to better understand the roots of disease and to transform heath care so that prevention, diagnosis and treatment are precisely tailored to individuals to develop targeted therapies and to improve care to patients worldwide,” says Sharmila Majumdar, Ph.D., vice chair for research, professor, and director of the musculoskeletal and quantitative imaging research group at UCSF and co-principal investigator for this project.

Investigators at each of the three institutions will invite healthy young individuals who have just torn their ACL to join the study. Patients will be evaluated at several points during the first 12 months after the injury with traditional MRI and newer MRI techniques.

 “Not everyone who has an ACL tear will develop osteoarthritis, but some do,” says Dr. Scott Rodeo, Orthopedic Surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery and project co-principal investigator. The goal is to identify biomarkers that reflect alterations in the joint environment that may be predictive of developing arthritis.”

 “What we learn from examining these biomarkers and from the MRI after injury can allow us and others to develop strategies, drug therapy, or ways to prevent or at least delay osteoarthritis.” says Dr. Michael Stuart, vice chair of orthopedic surgery and co-director of the Sports Medicine Center at Mayo Clinic.

 The Arthritis Foundation grant for the Feasibility Trial to Study ACL Injury as a Model of Early Osteoarthritis is made possible through generous donations from Marsha and Henry Laufer, Ph.D.s and the Alpha Omicron Pi fraternity.

Read more about the Arthritis Foundation’s OA Research Initiative.

Find out how you can help the Arthritis Foundation’s Research Program.