Treating osteoarthritis: a new synthetic joint lubricant is being tested in canines

Image illustrating that a new synthetic joint lubricant could eventually be used for treating osteoarthritis in humans.

A new synthetic joint lubricant is being tested in canine clinical trials and could eventually be used for treating osteoarthritis in humans.

The synthetic joint lubricant is a version of the naturally occurring joint lubricant called lubricin which binds to the surface of cartilage in joints. This natural lubricant cushion during high impact activities, such as running. The potential osteoarthritis treatment has been developed by Cornell University biomedical engineers.

David Putnam, a professor in the College of Engineering with appointments in the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering and the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, said: “We are in clinical trials, with dogs that have osteoarthritis, with our collaborators at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.”

How naturally occurring joint lubricant works

  • According to Cornell University, the knee is lubricated in two ways:
    Hydrodynamic mode, when the joint is moving fast it is lubricated by compounds like hyaluronic acid (HA) that are thick and gooey, like car oil
  • Boundary mode, which occurs when hyaluronic acid is ineffective due to strong forces pushing down on the joint in an activity such as running. In this instance, lubricin binds to the surface of the cartilage

Putnam explained: “When the production of that specific lubricant goes down, it creates higher contact between the surfaces of the joint and, over time, it leads to osteoarthritis.”

The synthetic joint lubricant

The synthetic polymer developed by the researchers is able to carry out the function of lubricin and is easier to produce.

The potential to treat human osteoarthritis

Putnam added: “Once we finalize the efficacy study in dogs, we will be in a very good position to market the material for veterinary osteoarthritis treatment.” From there, an application in human osteoarthritis may follow.

The paper is titled “Boundary Mode Lubrication of Articular Cartilage With a Biomimetic Diblock Copolymer,” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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