Fine-Tuning MRI To Help Monitor OA

Advances in MRI imaging have now become the central ally of osteoarthritis research, says Michael Stuart, MD, vice chair of Orthopedic Surgery and co-director of the Sports Medicine Center at Mayo Clinic: “Early MRI technology did not provide images that are as detailed as the ones we can get now.”

For the new study, each participant will have a baseline magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan within the first couple of weeks after injury.  The MRI images will record biochemical changes (called biomarkers) that occur in the cartilage.

“For the first time, we are using quantitative imaging, which can track early cartilage degeneration, says Majumadar. “Monitoring those early changes give us an understanding of how the disease evolves.”  

Understanding the evolution of the disease could lead to targeted osteoarthritis treatments, as well as new tools to detect or monitor the disease.

Studies of Cartilage May Also Offer OA Clues

The fine-turned MRIs will help study teams monitor changes in collagen, (a protein in cartilage that provides strength and flexibility) as well as hydrochloric acid and amino acids. “We are trying to identify different biochemical substances that affect the [environment] of the joint,” says Dr. Stuart.  “The markers give us a window inside the knee joint that tells us what’s going on.”

Researchers at Keller Army Hospital in West Point, New York, are also examining biomarkers found in the blood of patients with ACL injuries.  In a 2013 study of four biomarkers in 45 people with a torn ACL, the study team discovered changes in the cartilage turnover and joint metabolism that differ from those in people with uninjured ACLs.  The researchers believe that observation of these biomarkers over time should help track the progress of osteoarthritis.

Martha Murray, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, unexpectedly revealed more clues and questions about osteoarthritis and cartilage changes.  Murray’s team created a protein sponge, or scaffold, to help blood clot between the ends of a torn ACL in pigs.  The pig knees that used the sponge to treat the torn ACL had less cartilage damage and early osteoarthritis than pigs that had surgery to repair the ACL.

Murray guesses that the blood sponge changes the biology of an ACL injury. “When you damage the ACL, you lose important proteins from the cartilage.  The scaffold may help prevent that early loss. ”