Identifying high-risk patients for inclusion in a clinical trial or for early intervention or even preventive efforts would be a big deal. Despite the pervasiveness of OA, researchers say it’s been difficult to develop drugs to treat the condition in part because they don’t know whose disease will progress and whose won’t. There are currently no drugs to treat or stop the progression of the disease.

Dr. Jordan says her team still needs to analyze data from the African-American participants in the study, and she says overall there is still much to learn.

“It is important to recognize that OA is likely related to many genes, and we are particularly interested in how genes interact with other genes and with various risk factors in the environment,” Dr. Jordan says.

Eric Matteson, MD, a professor of Rheumatology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says the findings of this study make sense given what’s known about the inflammatory protein.

“Its something that I think is important. It’s pretty novel because what it shows is not only in the test tube – but maybe in real people – an abnormality like this plays a role in causing OA,” Dr. Matteson says. “We’re not at the point where we can say we’re going to test for the gene. But it’s a further piece that advances understanding of how OA occurs.”

Dr. Matteson says sometimes associations of gene products don’t hold up over time because things can be discovered by chance. But he thinks the strength of this association is good and he thinks the study offers intriguing possibilities for the future.

“We have drugs that antagonize the effects of interleukin-1, so you wonder if there might be some treatment consequences. And it may be that in certain settings you might even test for the gene and then can you alter that gene? Those are questions way down the road but they are interesting things to think about with this.”