Scientists say many of the genes highlighted are already targeted by licensed drugs. They might be repurposed to treat the condition, which affects 8.5 million people in Britain. The findings, hailed as a “milestone” in finding a cure, come from the largest-ever arthritis study.
It was led by scientists at the Institute of Translational Genomics at Helmholtz Zentrum research centre in Munich, Germany, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Sheffield.
Study co-author Prof Mark Wilkinson, from Sheffield’s department of oncology and metabolism, said: “Osteoarthritis is a disease of the joints and affects over 300 million individuals worldwide. It causes a gradually increasing degeneration of the cartilage on the joint surface, resulting in chronic pain.
“Our research has pinpointed genes for osteoarthritis which are already the targets of approved drugs, meaning we can reposition these drugs as potential treatments.”
He said the study is a “stepping stone” for translating genetic discoveries into drug development, to improve the lives of patients.
Researchers also found differences in the risk of disease for weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing joints, the first female-specific risk factors for developing arthritis and the first risk factors for early onset. They also found genetic links between osteoarthritis and pain ‑ its main symptom.
Dr Cindy Boer, of Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, said: “As we have investigated osteoarthritis in multiple joints, we have also identified specific genetic changes that underpin the risk for all forms.”
The researchers say their work, the first output of the Genetics of Osteoarthritis collaboration of studies, provides a “robust springboard” for clinical trials of the drugs.
Prof Eleftheria Zeggini, founding director of the Munich centre, said: “This is a major step forward in understanding this debilitating disease and could not have been achieved without this international team.”