Doctors in Leeds are leading a £900,000 trial to investigate the effectiveness of a drug to treat patients affected by disabling illness affecting millions of people.
Experts say the major study funded by the charity Arthritis Research UK could offer welcome relief to one in 12 people hit by osteoarthritis in their hand.
A total of 250 people will be invited to take part in the research to find out if a drug more commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis might reduce inflammation and pain in osteoarthritis.
Existing treatments for hand osteoarthritis such as splinting, painkillers and physiotherapy provide only limited relief to sufferers. Painkillers, although effective, can have side effects and do nothing to slow or halt the progression of disease.
Phil Conaghan, Professor of Musculoskeletal Medicine at Leeds University, said he believed that as well as providing long-term pain relief, his study testing a drug called hydroxychloroquine could also slow down progression of the condition.
“Osteoarthritis of the hand is generally considered to be less important and less disabling than hip or knee osteoarthritis but a large proportion of those affected report that they have significant difficulties with everyday tasks which have a great impact on their quality of life and general health,” said Prof Conaghan, who is based in the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine at Chapel Allerton Hospital.
“Recent imaging studies have shown that osteoarthritis is not just ‘wear and tear’ but that inflammation is important too, so we think that by reducing inflammation, pain will also be reduced.”
Hydroxychloroquine is already used on an anecdotal basis by some specialists to treat osteoarthritic pain, but there’s been no major trial to test its effectiveness.
In Yorkshire, patients will be recruited in Leeds, York, and Harrogate. Up to 250 people from up to 20 centres in hospitals, as well as some GP surgeries around the UK, will be recruited onto the trial for one year.
Half will take hydroxychloroquine while the other half will take a dummy drug, and both groups will be allowed to continue with their existing painkillers. Their condition will be assessed at six and 12 months.
Hydroxychloroquine is derived from an anti-malarial drug and is considered to be the least toxic of drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. It is also cheap and with few side effects. Recruitment for the trial will begin shortly.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint disease and affects around eight million people in the UK.
It can affect any joint. Those more a risk are in their late 40s or older, women, overweight people, or with a family history of the condition.