Experimental Drug Rebuilds Cartilage in Knee Osteoarthritis Patients

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

An experimental treatment shows promise in slowing the progression of knee osteoarthritis by increasing the thickness of cartilage in the knee joint, according to results of an early clinical trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine gave 549 volunteers with knee osteoarthritis injections of the drug sprifermin or a placebo. Sprifermin is a disease modifying drug that stimulated the production of cartilage-producing cells in animal studies.

The researchers found that participants who received a 100 microgram dose of sprifermin either twice or once yearly experienced a statistically significant but slight gain in joint cartilage thickness after two years.  Those given smaller doses had smaller gains in cartilage that were not statistically or clinically significant.

"While the increase in cartilage thickness is a positive sign, we do not know at this point whether it has any clinical significance," said lead investigator Marc Hochberg, MD, a Professor of Medicine at UMSOM. "It is not known whether those who experience increased cartilage thickness over time will be able to avoid or delay knee replacement surgery."

Interestingly, patients treated with a high dose of sprifermin did not experience any significant improvement in their arthritis symptoms – such as pain and stiffness -- compared to those given lower doses or placebo injections.

All of the injections were stopped after 18 months. The Phase 2 study is designed to continue for a total of five years and future analyses of the findings are planned.

About 10 percent of Americans over age 60 have knee osteoarthritis, a progressive condition caused by the breakdown of joint cartilage. Knee osteoarthritis causes pain, physical disability, lower quality of life and is associated with early death and cardiovascular problems.

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The pain is usually treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections, and sometimes surgery. No disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs have been approved in the United States or Europe.

Arthroscopic and knee replacement surgeries are increasingly being used to treat knee osteoarthritis. But a number of recent studies have found the arthroscopic surgery does not relieve knee pain any better than physical therapy or over-the-counter pain relievers. Researchers have also found that about a third of patients who had knee replacement surgery continued to have pain after the procedure.

Stem Cells Reduce Pain from Knee Osteoarthritis

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

A small new study has demonstrated that stem cells collected from a patient’s own bone marrow can significantly reduce pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee.

In the first clinical trial of its kind in Canada, researchers collected mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) from the spines of 12 middle-aged patients with moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis. These “autologous” cells – stem cells derived from a patient’s own fat or bone tissue – were then processed and injected back into the patients’ knees at different doses.

Researchers then followed the patients for the next 12 months, using MRI imaging, biomarkers, molecular fingerprinting and the patient's own assessment of how they felt.

"Our goal was to test for safety as well as to gain a better understanding of MSC dosing, mechanisms of action and donor selection," said lead author Sowmya Viswanathan, PhD, Arthritis Program at the Krembil Research Institute, University Health Network in Toronto.

At the end of the study period, researchers said there were significant improvements in all 12 patients’ pain levels, stiffness and quality of life. The study also showed that the MSCs were safe at all the doses tested and that the higher the dose, the more effective the outcome.

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"We also obtained novel insights into a potential anti-inflammatory mechanism of action of these cells in osteoarthritic knee joints. We noted that donor heterogeneity is an important factor, and our assembled panel of genes helps us identify cells which are potent in osteoarthritis. These are important findings which we hope to translate into a larger, powered clinical trial as part of our next steps," said Viswanathan, who reported the findings in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

Over 250 million people worldwide suffer from knee osteoarthritis (OA), which causes thinning of cartilage and progressive joint damage. Nearly 40 percent of Americans over the age of 45 have some degree of knee OA.

Knee replacement and arthroscopic knee surgeries are commonly used to treat knee OA, even though many studies show they have limited effectiveness. A 2017 study in The British Medical Journal  of over 7,400 patients who had knee replacement surgery found the procedure often had minimal effects on quality of life and wasn’t worth the cost.

Arthroscopic surgery is less invasive than a total knee replacement, but studies also show it is often not effective. In 2017, an international panel of experts reviewed 25 studies involving nearly two million patients and concluded that arthroscopic surgery does not improve long term pain or function in patients with knee conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Because these conventional treatments often fail, there is growing interest in the use of stem cells to treat knee problems. The FDA, however, takes a dim view of autologous stem cells and released guidance in 2017 that requires the cells to undergo “minimal manipulation.”

The FDA recently sent letters to 20 stem cell manufacturers and clinics warning them they were violating FDA regulations. The agency says the science behind autologous cells is still in its early stages and they have not been proven to be safe and effective.

“There’s a false premise being asserted by some in the field that a product derived from a person’s own body and then manipulated and reinserted for another use different from the one it played in its original location is not subject to FDA regulation just because it originated from the person it was given back to,” then FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, and Biologics Center Director Peter Marks, MD, said in a statement.

“We’ve seen too many cases of sponsors claiming that cells aren’t subject to FDA regulation just because the cells originated from the same patient to whom the eventual manufactured product is being given. And we’ve seen too many cases of companies making unsubstantiated claims that these treatments prevent, treat, cure or mitigate disease where the products have sometimes led to serious patient harm.”

Many Invasive Surgeries No Better Than Placebo

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

In an age when doctors are urged not to prescribe opioids, many patients are being told to have surgery or other invasive procedures to treat their chronic pain.

But a systematic review of 25 clinical trials found little evidence that invasive surgeries are more effective than placebo or sham procedures in reducing low back and knee pain. The study was published in the journal Pain Medicine.

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"Our findings raise several questions for clinicians, researchers, and policy-makers. First, can we justify widespread use of these procedures without rigorous testing?" said lead author Wayne Jonas, MD, a Professor of Family Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

“Given their high cost and safety concerns, more rigorous studies are required before invasive procedures are routinely used for patients with chronic pain.”

The invasive procedures that were analyzed include arthroscopic, endoscopic and laparoscopic surgeries, as well as radiofrequency ablations, laser treatments and other interventions.

In each study, researchers also performed sham or placebo procedures on a control group where they faked the invasive procedure. Patients did not know which intervention (real or sham) they received. Researchers then compared the patients’ pain intensity, disability, health-related quality of life, use of medication, adverse events, and other factors.

They found that reduction in disability did not differ between the two groups three months after the procedures or at six months. Seven of the studies on low back pain and three on knee osteoarthritis showed no difference in pain intensity at six months compared with the sham procedures.

“There is little evidence for the specific efficacy beyond sham for invasive procedures in chronic pain. A moderate amount of evidence does not support the use of invasive procedures as compared with sham procedures for patients with chronic back or knee pain,” said Jonas.

Invasive treatments are being increasingly used as an alternative to opioids. Americans spent an estimated $45 billion on surgery for chronic low back pain and $41 billion on arthroplasty for knee pain in 2014.

Several previous studies have also questioned the value of arthroplasty. Over 850,000 arthroscopic surgeries are performed every year to relieve knee pain in the UK and the United States. But a 2015 study published in the BMJ questioned the evidence behind the surgery and said it provides only “small inconsequential benefit.”

New Warning About Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

By Pat Anson, Editor

Yet another study is warning against arthroscopic knee surgery, a common orthopedic procedure performed worldwide over two million times a year and at a cost of $3 billion in the U.S. alone.

An international panel of surgeons, physical therapists and clinicians reviewed 25 studies involving nearly two million patients and concluded that arthroscopic knee surgery does not improve long term pain or function in patients with degenerative knee conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Some patients may feel a small amount of pain relief three months after surgery, but the panel said the benefit was usually not sustained after one year.

“We make a strong recommendation against the use of arthroscopy in nearly all patients with degenerative knee disease, based on linked systematic reviews; further research is unlikely to alter this recommendation,” the panel reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The one exception raised by the review is for people with mechanical locking or clicking symptoms in their knee, which is often caused by meniscal tears in the cartilage of the knee joint.

Knee arthroscopies are a type of “keyhole” surgery in which the surgeon makes a small incision in the knee and inserts a tiny camera and instruments to diagnose and repair damaged ligaments or torn meniscus. Risks associated with arthroscopic knee surgery, although rare, include deep vein thrombosis (DVT), infection, pulmonary embolism, and death.

Over the past decade, the number of arthroscopic knee surgeries have soared in many Western countries where the population is aging. About 25 percent of people older than 50 experience  pain from degenerative knee disease.

SOURCE: THE BMJ

SOURCE: THE BMJ

Over the past decade, the number of arthroscopic knee surgeries have soared in many Western countries where the population is aging. About 25 percent of people older than 50 experience  pain from degenerative knee disease.

Previous studies in The BMJ found the benefits of knee surgery “inconsequential” and said the procedure was “not an economically attractive treatment option” compared to physical therapy, exercise and pain medication.

The studies are part of The BMJ's “Too Much Medicine” campaign, which highlights the waste of resources and potential harm caused by unnecessary medical care.

A 2014 report by a German health organization also found that arthroscopic knee surgery provides no benefit to patients with osteoarthritis, and does not relieve pain any better than physical therapy or over-the-counter pain medications. The same conclusion was reached by a large study in Australia.

The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) lists arthroscopic knee surgery as one of five procedures that are not always necessary in the Choosing Wisely campaign. The AMSSM advises physicians to avoid recommending knee arthroscopy as a treatment for patients with degenerative meniscal tears.

Depending on insurance, hospital charges and the surgeon, arthroscopic knee surgery costs about $4,000.

Study Questions Value of Knee Replacement Surgery

By Pat Anson, Editor

New research is raising questions about the value of knee replacement surgeries, one of the fastest growing elective procedures in the United States.

In an analysis of over 7,400 patients with osteoarthritis who had knee replacement surgeries, researchers concluded the procedure often had minimal effects on quality of life and wasn’t worth the cost. But when the surgeries are performed on patients with more severe knee pain, their effectiveness increases, researchers reported in The BMJ.

The annual rate of total knee replacements in the U.S. has doubled since 2000, with more than 640,000 surgeries now performed annually at a cost of $10.2 billion.

"Given its limited effectiveness in individuals with less severely affected physical function, performance of total knee replacement in these patients seems to be economically unjustifiable," wrote lead author Bart Ferket, MD, an assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

"Considerable cost savings could be made by limiting eligibility to patients with more symptomatic knee osteoarthritis,"

Osteoarthritis is a joint disorder that leads to thinning of cartilage and progressive joint damage. Nearly 40 percent of Americans over the age of 45 have some degree of knee osteoarthritis, and those numbers are expected to grow as the population ages.

Ferket and his colleagues found that about a third of the patients who had their knees replaced continued to experience chronic pain after the procedure. Their quality of life generally improved, but the change was small. The improvement in quality of life was higher when patients with lower physical scores before surgery were operated on.

“The practice of total knee replacement as performed in a recent U.S. cohort of patients with knee osteoarthritis had minimal effects on quality of life. If the procedure were restricted to patients with more severe functional status, however, its effectiveness would rise, with practice becoming economically more attractive,” they concluded.

"Our findings emphasize the need for more research comparing total knee replacement with less expensive, more conservative interventions, particularly in patients with less severe symptoms.”

Previous studies have also questioned the value of many knee surgeries. A five year study of 175 knee replacement patients by the National Institutes of Health found that over a third of the surgeries were inappropriate. Many patients had pain and other symptoms that were too mild to justify having their knees replaced.  

Another study found that arthroscopic knee surgery is “not an economically attractive treatment option” compared to physical therapy, exercise and medication.

In arthroscopic surgery, a doctor makes a small incision in the knee and inserts a tiny camera and instruments to repair damaged ligaments or torn meniscus. Arthroscopic surgery is far less invasive than a total knee replacement. Depending on insurance, hospital charges and the surgeon, arthroscopic surgeries cost about $4,000.  A total knee replacement costs about $28,000 according to HealthCare Bluebook.

Arthroscopic Knee Surgery Not Cost-Effective

By Pat Anson, Editor

Another study is raising doubts about the value of arthroscopic knee surgery, a procedure that is routinely used to treat osteoarthritis and other chronic knee problems. Researchers at Western University in Canada say the surgery provides no additional benefit compared to physical therapy, exercise and medication.

Over 250 million people worldwide suffer from knee osteoarthritis (OA), which causes thinning of cartilage and progressive joint damage. Nearly 40 percent of Americans over the age of 45 have some degree of knee OA.

Investigators at Western’s Bone and Joint Institute analyzed the cost-effectiveness of arthroscopic  surgery, a type of “keyhole” surgery in which the surgeon makes a small incision in the knee and inserts a tiny camera and instruments to diagnose and repair damaged ligaments or torn meniscus.

Over 850,000 arthroscopies are performed every year to relieve knee pain in the UK and the United States alone.

"We previously showed in a randomized clinical trial that arthroscopy for knee osteoarthritis provided no benefit over optimized non-operative care. Despite that finding, and subsequent similar studies, the surgery is still commonly performed," says Trevor Birmingham, the Canada Research Chair in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation at Western's Faculty of Health Sciences. "That's why we felt it was important to do the accompanying cost-effectiveness analysis."

The two-year study, published in the journal BMJ Open, found that arthroscopic knee surgery is “not an economically attractive treatment option” compared to non-operative treatments such as physical therapy, exercise and medication. Depending on insurance, hospital charges and the surgeon, arthroscopic surgeries cost about $4,000.

“Patients who received non-operative therapies showed similar improvements in pain, function, and quality of life compared to those who also received surgery, at a significantly lower cost,” says lead author Jacquelyn Marsh, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Health Economics at Western University.

While most people do feel better after knee arthroscopy, randomized clinical trials found that patients improve to a similar extent when they receive non-operative treatments or ‘sham’ surgery, where the patient receives anesthesia but doesn’t actually receive the surgical treatment.

“When that body of evidence is coupled with the present economic analysis, one has to question whether health care funds would be better spent elsewhere,” said Birmingham.

A 2014 report by a German health organization also found arthroscopic  surgery does not relieve pain any better than physical therapy or over-the-counter pain medications.

Another study published last year in the The BMJ called the benefit of knee surgery “inconsequential.” Researchers in Denmark and Sweden reviewed 9 studies on arthroscopic knee surgeries and found that the surgery provided pain relief for up to six months, but without any significant benefit in physical function. Risks from the surgery are rare, but include deep vein thrombosis, infection, pulmonary embolism, and death.

"It is difficult to support or justify a procedure with the potential for serious harm, even if it is rare, when that procedure offers patients no more benefit than placebo," wrote Professor Andy Carr from Oxford University’s Institute of Musculoskeletal Sciences in an accompanying editorial.

Carr said thousands of lives could be saved if the surgery was discontinued or performed less often.

Value of Arthroscopic Knee Surgery ‘Inconsequential’

By Pat Anson, Editor

Arthroscopic knee surgery on older adults has become a routine procedure in North America and Europe – with over 850,000 arthroscopies performed every year to relieve knee pain in the UK and the United States alone.

But a new study published in the The BMJ questions the evidence behind the procedure and calls the benefit of knee surgery “inconsequential.” The article is part of The BMJ's “Too Much Medicine” campaign, which highlights the waste of resources and potential harm caused by unnecessary medical care.

“The small inconsequential benefit seen from interventions that include arthroscopy for the degenerative knee is limited in time and absent at one to two years after surgery,” the report says. “Taken together, these findings do not support the practice of arthroscopic surgery for middle aged or older patients with knee pain with or without signs of osteoarthritis.”

Knee arthroscopies are a type of “keyhole” surgery in which the surgeon makes a small incision in the knee and inserts a tiny camera and instruments to diagnose and repair damaged ligaments or torn meniscus. Many specialists are convinced of the benefits of the surgery.

But when researchers in Denmark and Sweden reviewed 18 studies on arthroscopic knee surgery, they found that half were of poor quality or lacked a placebo control. The other nine studies found that the surgery provided pain relief for up to six months, but without any significant benefit in physical function.

Risks associated with arthroscopic knee surgery, although rare, include deep vein thrombosis (DVT), infection, pulmonary embolism, and death.

"It is difficult to support or justify a procedure with the potential for serious harm, even if it is rare, when that procedure offers patients no more benefit than placebo," argues Professor Andy Carr from Oxford University’s Institute of Musculoskeletal Sciences in an accompanying editorial.

With rates of knee surgery at their current level, Carr says thousands of lives could be saved and DVTs prevented each year if the procedure was discontinued or diminished.

“We may be close to a tipping point where the weight of evidence against arthroscopic knee surgery for pain is enough to overcome concerns about the quality of the studies, confirmation bias, and vested interests. When that point is reached, we should anticipate a swift reversal of established practice,” Carr wrote.

The BMJ study is not the first to question the value of arthroscopic knee surgery.  A 2014 report by a German health organization found the procedure provides no benefit to patients with osteoarthritis, and does not relieve pain any better than physical therapy or over-the-counter pain medications.

Another large study in Australia also questions the value of arthroscopic knee surgery, finding there was no significant benefit for osteoarthritis patients.

The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) lists arthroscopic knee surgery as one of five procedures that are not always necessary in the Choosing Wisely campaign. The AMSSM advises physicians to avoid recommending knee arthroscopy as a treatment for patients with degenerative meniscal tears.

Depending on insurance, hospital charges and the surgeon, arthroscopic knee surgery costs about $4,000.