Can we slow or stop progression of osteoarthritis by blocking a newly identified protein?

September 29, 2015 | Frank Beier

western university

The Issue

Osteoarthritis (OA) impacts over 3 million Canadians, inflicting an enormous toll on families, the health-care system and the economy. There are as yet no treatments to stop the disease, causing a spike in joint replacement surgery across the country. Its impact and prevalence will only rise in the coming decades if we don’t stop it. 

In a previous study, Dr. Beier’s team discovered that a protein called PPARdelta may play a role in how OA develops. They found that activating PPARdelta in joints led to a breakdown of cartilage and other damage linked to OA. In a genetically modified mouse, they then proved that after removing PPARdelta, OA induced by surgery progressed far more slowly. 

Removing the protein protected the mice from OA. This set the table for the exciting new study.  

The Study

First, Dr. Beier and his team will see if using drugs to block PPARdelta will slow down the progression of OA in a rat model. They will also track modified mice over time in order to study aging – will that mouse without PPARdelta develop less severe OA down the road? 

A hot area in OA research is the connection between the disease and your metabolism. This study is looking at a very key area: can blocking this protein prevent not only injury-induced OA but also arthritis tied to aging and obesity? Could PPARdelta be important in preventing the effects of these metabolic diseases on OA?

Finally, they will use human cartilage samples and test whether blocking PPARdelta protects it from damage. This could pave the way for an entirely new treatment.

The Impact

Fresh insight here may lead to new drugs that stop osteoarthritis from developing. There are several steps that need to be studied, but this is what the future could hold: If you suffer a knee injury, you receive a drug straight to that knee for a limited time and you prevent OA from setting in.

Another angle here is very intriguing. PPARdelta is linked to the metabolic process and can be stimulated by certain fats in our blood. Those fats come from food – so what we choose to eat could possibly turn off PPARdelta.  Our diet, then, could protect us from arthritis. 

“This is one of the most exciting projects we have right now,” Dr. Beier said.

The Researcher

Dr. Frank Beier is professor and assistant chair at Western University’s department of physiology and pharmacology. He runs the Beier Lab to study developing, aging and diseased joints. This is his second Arthritis Society grant and early in his career he also received a Young Investigator Salary Award. Dr. Beier has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles. 

“With government funding dropping, we are very fortunate to receive Arthritis Society support,” Dr. Beier said. “It allows us to do so much more, faster, train new researchers, and make a lot of progress that we wouldn’t otherwise make.”

Principal Applicant: Dr. Frank Beier, University of Western Ontario, ON
Research Program: Strategic Operating Grant
Fund Term: 2015-2018
Fund Amount: $354,742