Common advice for OA sufferers is joint replacement, but other options are on the horizon.
I received an osteoarthritis (OA) diagnosis two years ago. As a very active person in my early 50s, how could this happen to me? I eat well and maintain a healthy body weight. Then I learned there is no cure or even viable treatment for this disease that cripples more than 32 million Americans. The attitude of the healthcare industry is best characterized as benign neglect: take a seat and wait out the rest of your life in pain without doing the things that you love. If you have OA in more than one joint, you have to make multiple appointments with doctors because orthopedists will only address one joint at a time.
The most common advice from the medical community is to have a joint replacement. In fact, according to the CDC and the American College of Rheumatology, Americans get 790,000 knees and 470,000 hips each year.1 Those numbers are skyrocketing as America gets older and heavier—while millions of other people limp along trying to avoid prosthetic joints.
Joint replacement is not a good option. First, they only treat OA in the knees and hips. There are very few joint replacement options for elbows and shoulders, and there is absolutely nothing available for hands, feet, and ankles. Second, joint replacements are not a good solution for active people under 60 years of age. This is because artificial joints do not tolerate impact from running and jumping, and they wear out in 10–20 years.
One of the major problems with the science around treating OA is that it is not lethal. If it were more fatal, medical science would have looked harder for a cure. Ironically, OA is actually very deadly. Folks with OA stop moving, which drives weight gain and follow-on deadly diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
What can patients do today, rather than get flawed synthetic joints and sit down to wait out their lives gaining weight? We need to get smarter about emerging treatments and get involved in the OA cure movement.
The science around a cure is changing fast, and we have a host of viable cures on the horizon. I see hope because in May, the US government, in the form of The Advanced Research Project Agency for Health (ARPA-H), announced an OA cure moonshot, Novel Innovations for Tissue Regeneration in Osteoarthritis.
ARPA-H is talking about delivering new cures to people in five years. The NITRO program challenges and funds OA research and clinical innovators from all over the world to bring together their best treatments to cure OA. Through my own extensive global search for OA innovators, I have identified the following group I call “The OA Cure Magnificent Seven,” the leading guns in the battle for an OA cure:
With NITRO underway and the OA Cure Magnificent Seven riding hard, the time is coming when we can develop a cure for all those afflicted with OA. To paraphrase Estes at CytexOrtho: “Why replace your joints when you can renew them?”
Steve O’Keeffe is the founder of Angry@Arthritis, a non-profit focused on curing osteoarthritis.