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New thinking about osteoarthritis, older people's nemesis

Osteoarthritis is easily the most common joint disease in the United States and in the world. Stanford immunologist and rheumatologist Bill Robinson, MD, PhD, says it's a kind of physical counterpart to Alzheimer's disease, in that both are debilitating - the former to the body and the latter to the mind -- and both become increasingly common as a person grows older.

About 27 million people in the United States alone suffer from osteoarthritis, in which cartilage - typically in the knees, hips, fingers or spine - breaks down, destroying the shock absorber that cushions every motion's impact on the ends of barely separated bones. These numbers are expected to skyrocket as baby-boomers hit their 60s and beyond.

Until now, the medical community has viewed osteoarthritis of as a somewhat inevitable result of a lifetime's worth of wear and tear on the joints, often accelerated by trauma such as a knee injury. But a recent study in Nature Medicine by Robinson and his colleagues suggests othewise: Like Alzheimer's, osteoarthritis may, in large part, be attributable to inflammatory processes that begin long before any noticeable symptoms emerge. That's important, because it opens the door to finding diagnostic and therapeutic solutions that may someday be able to fend off the bone-grinding agony of this disease.

To learn more about the role of low-grade chronic inflamation in initiating the biochemical cascades that culminate in osteoarthrits, listen to this 1:2:1 podcast, in which Paul Costello, the medical school's chief communications officer, interviews Robinson.

Previously: Inflammation, not just wear and tear, spawn arthritis

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