All forms of osteoarthritis are caused by interplay between mechanics and inheritance.

Indeed, there are some kinds of mechanical event, which make long-term joint deterioration and osteoarthritis almost inevitable. Other forms of osteoarthritis rely mostly on inherited traits that might only accelerate deterioration. Using mice with these distinct types of osteoarthritis, our research has aimed to establish: just how susceptible joints can be to specific mechanical events, how much genetics alone contributes to speedy joint devastation and the extent that these events inter-relate.

Our research has now identified specific components of joint use that produce trauma to initiate the osteoarthritis process and the extent to which genetically-prone mice develop osteoarthritis due to the inheritance of speedy deterioration. This research has been conducted to provide a clearer idea of how the development of osteoarthritis might therefore be limited, benefiting human and veterinary patients by identifying the activities that should be avoided to restrict osteoarthritis onset.

Our work has also provided new approaches to control and monitor osteoarthritis. This has created a framework in which future studies might become more refined and also sophisticated enough to allow us to address how genetics and joint use/overuse interact to produce osteoarthritis – a major question in our field. Our research has achieved these advances in part by using ultra-sophisticated imaging techniques to visualise very small mouse joints and so size is no longer a limitation. This advance has meant that new questions with greater relevance to osteoarthritis in human and veterinary patients can be addressed, that couldn’t possibly have been addressed before.

Our multi-disciplinary research combined cutting-edge imaging using electron ‘beaming’, creation of ‘virtual’ computer models of tiny joints, classic bioengineering to measure stresses/strains at opposed joint surfaces, and also a new mouse knee joint mechanical loading model. It has also made use of a mouse with a inherited predisposition to spontaneous osteoarthritis.

We remain hopeful that these novel approaches will identify better ways to avoid the detrimental effects of mechanical joint function and that they will provide insights into the types of stimuli that are beneficial in human and animal joint health.

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