Scientists optimistic that cheap plant extract can also treat osteoarthritis
Researchers in Nijmegen are optimistic that the plant extract colchicine, an age-old remedy for gout, can also be used to help people with osteoarthritis. Colchicine users involved in the study showed a 30 percent reduction in the need for knee and hip replacement surgeries, and the medication is cheap, safe, and easy to use said scientists from the RadboudUMC, the university medical center in Nijmegen, and the Sint Maartenskliniek.
Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis affecting 1.5 million people in the Netherlands. Those afflicted suffer from pain as the cartilage in joints wears down. People with osteoarthritis are now dependent on painkillers, and some affected joints can be replaced under surgery.
Colchicine has been used to treat inflammation caused by gout since at least the first century, and some researchers believe it was first used as early as 1500 BCE. Several years ago, RadboudUMC cardiology professor Jan Hein Cornel and his colleagues came up with the idea that the drug could work against cardiovascular diseases in which inflammation also plays a role.
“Inflammation plays an important role in those conditions as well. And we were proved right: Our study conducted in more than 5,000 cardiovascular patients revealed that colchicine reduced the risk of a heart attack, angioplasty, bypass, or stroke by thirty percent,” Cornel said. That study led to a collaboration with Calin Popa, rheumatologist at the Sint Maartenskliniek, who hypothesized that the drug could also treat osteoarthritis sufferers.
They analyzed the existing data in the double-blind study and found the promising connection between colchicine use and relief for osteoarthritis sufferers. They published the results on Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, RadboudUMC announced.
“In the group treated with colchicine, the number of patients who received a new knee or hip was more than 30 percent lower than in the placebo group. Because it is such an old drug, we know that it is safe,” said Michelle Heijman, a researcher at the Sint Maartenskliniek who helped run the study.
As a drug, colchicine has proven to be safe for millennia, and can already be prescribed by a general practitioner for those with gout. If approved as a treatment for osteoarthritis, it may only require the patient to take one tablet per day, at a cost of a few dozen euros per year, the researchers said. Popa said he believes it improves quality of life while delaying or eliminating the need for surgery, also reducing healthcare costs.
Since the initial study was designed specifically to analyze the effect of the drug on cardiovascular patients, a follow-up study is needed to confirm the results for osteoarthritis patients, the researchers said. Popa and Cornel intend to press ahead with their work.
“If we can confirm that colchicine works, that is fantastic news,” Popa said.