Resolvins. Small molecules derived from omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish, resolvins are known to help block inflammation. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston are studying two resolvins for use in treating pain caused by inflammation.

In a study published in Nature Medicine in 2010, injections of two resolvins, RvE1 and RvD1, both alleviated inflammatory pain in mice. In fact, RvE1 was far more potent than morphine or a COX-2 inhibitor at fighting pain. The researchers reported that RvE1 doesn’t just reduce inflammation that causes pain, it also affects the way nerves in the spinal cord respond to inflammation. Chronic pain may occur because of changes in the nervous system that causes nerves to keep sensing pain after the acute inflammation subsides, but resolvins may suppress that sensation, the researchers noted.

Stem cells and small molecules. “OA goes beyond just needing new cartilage. It’s wear and tear, and there is an inflammation reaction,” says Dr. Hsu. And while some people with arthritis may find relief through total joint replacement, lack of fluid and cartilage, inflammation, nerve damage and soft-tissue damage can still cause pain.

Dr. Hsu envisions a day when stem cell technology might generate new cartilage for people with OA. He also sees promising research in the development of small molecules, or targeting the specific causes of inflammation at the molecular level, like the molecules involved in the resolvin study. “We could eliminate the course of inflammation,” he says.