TUESDAY, July 3, 2012 (HealthDay News) --Scientists have identified as many as eight new gene variants that may increase osteoarthritis risk, according to new research.
Osteoarthritis, which affects 40 percent of people aged 40 and older, is the most common form of arthritis. The study brings the total number of susceptibility genes identified in Europeans to 11.
"The health economic burden of osteoarthritis is increasing commensurate with obesity prevalence and longevity," study lead author John Loughlin, of Newcastle University in England, said.
"Our findings provide some insight into the genetics of arthritis and identify new pathways that might be amenable to future therapeutic intervention," he added in a news release from The Lancet, which published the study online July 2.
Osteoarthritis, which often causes pain and stiffness, is a degeneration of the cartilage in the joints.
In the study, researchers compared the genomes of more than 7,400 people with severe hip and knee osteoarthritis to more than 11,000 people who did not have the disease.
After identifying the most promising sites, the researchers replicated the findings in 7,500 people with osteoarthritis and 43,000 people from Iceland, Estonia, the Netherlands, and the U.K. who did not have the disease.
The study found up to eight new gene variants linked to osteoarthritis, including five that were significantly associated with the disease and three that were nearly significant.
Next steps include determining the function of the genes and how they interact with other genes, which may ultimately help in developing new treatments, researchers said.
That may yet prove difficult, researchers from University of Maryland School of Medicine said in an accompanying commentary in the journal.
"The challenge will be to connect the biology of these genes to the development and progression of osteoarthritis and to investigate the therapeutic potential of these pathways for disease prevention and treatment," they wrote.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on osteoarthritis.