This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Osteoarthritis is common in dogs and horses and treatment currently requires the long term or intermittent use of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs. There is no satisfactory cure except for total joint replacement - which is rarely performed in animals.

Whatever the primary cause of osteoarthritis,  the inflammatory and degenerative process is mediated through the release of prostaglandin E2 and a series of metalloproteinases (MMPs) which can destroy the cartilage matrix. The cytokine interleukin-1 (IL-1) and Tumour Necrosis Factor a (TNF) both stimulate the production of prostaglandin and MMP's within the joint. Transforming growth factor b (TGF b) is an anabolic cytokine that stimulates cartilage repair.

Fortunately there are natural inhibitors to IL-1 (called interleukin1-receptor antagonist protein - or IL1RAP), TNF (called TNF soluble factor)  and to the MMP's (called tissue inhibitors of MMP's - or TIMPS)

Pioneering work is currently being undertaken by the molecular medicine and therapeutic group at Glasgow University Veterinary School. They are investigating the treatment of arthritis using gene therapy. Essentially the process involves introducing the following genes into cells in the joint :

  • Anticytokine genes into synovial cells and cartilage cells  - these stimulate the cells to produce IL1RAP and TNF soluble factor and so inhibit the effects of IL-1, TNF
  • Genes to inhibit MMPs - these stimulate the production of  TIMPS in the joint.
  • Anabolic genes - to stimulate the production of TGFb

Several techniques have been developed to do this in humans, but the Glasgow group are using gold particles, which are coated with the genes, and then introduced into synovial cells and chondrocytes using a Helium gene gun.

Initial results are very encouraging and, although the cost of the procedure would be beyond the pocket of most small animal practices, the likelihood is that a clinical service will soon be offered by referral centres, such as the Glasgow Veterinary School .

To the authors knowledge this research is currently suspended pending further research investment 

Updated January 2016