Genetics is steadily becoming a part of medicine. However, one area where genetics isn’t yet prevalent is in arthritis care. A recent study shows that that may soon change.
The concept that your genes are important for disease risk is finding it’s way into many areas of medicine. For example, off the shelf genetics tests can now tell you how many of hundreds of diseases you may be at higher risk of contracting, all with a swab from your mouth. In addition, doctors are just beginning to use genetic tests to see if certain medications may help or hurt. Genetic tests on the patient, and even on the tumor, are big news right now in cancer care. However, arthritis is an area where the existing research hasn’t shown that there are genetic causes of common problems like knee degenerative disease.
The study was simple; it tracked the offspring of 219 knee replacement patients. They then followed 115 offspring and 104 controls for up to 10 years. At two years, the offspring of knee replacement patients were similar to control patients without an ancestor who had the surgery. Over 8 years, the knee replacement offspring had about a 50% increased risk for developing knee pain. After adjusting the statistics to compare apples to apples, knee replacement sons and daughters where more than twice as likely to have knee pain!
Where is all of this headed? I expect 20 years from now when you come in with knee pain we’ll take a cheek swab and place it in a machine that can ID if you’re at genetic risk for cartilage breakdown. If so, when you get that first cartilage lesion, we’ll treat it aggressively. If not, then we’ll take a wait and see posture.
The upshot? While we have yet to identify the “knee arthritis genes”, or all of the genes responsible for a higher risk of genetic knee arthritis, this study is an interesting first step. So the next time your knee swells after a workout, or your doctor tells you have knee arthritis, it may be totally legit to blame that on your parents (along with all that psychotherapy)!