A simple blood test could one day predict who will suffer from arthritis before symptoms begin, allowing doctors to treat the condition early before the damage becomes irreparable.
Scientists from Bristol University have identified two biomarkers from which they hope to be able to distinguish between a healthy patient and one who will go on to develop osteoarthritis. It is hoped the test could also inform doctors as to whether the condition is likely to worsen, and how badly it will affect the sufferer.
Osteoarthritis is a painful and often debilitating condition that affects more than eight million in the UK, and the cost of treatment in the NHS stands at some £5.2 billion each year.
The researchers hope not only to help protect those who could go on to develop the condition minimise their symptoms and damage to their joints by way of early treatment, but also potentially save the health service millions in joint replacements.
Dr Mohammed Sharif, who led the research, described the biomarkers - indicators found in the blood - as "very useful", and told the Daily Express: "We hope to find out whether they can reliably distinguish between a healthy person and a person with osteoarthritis, identify which patients' condition will get worse, and whether a particular drug is working or not."
The team has now been granted £300,000 from the charity Arthritis Research UK to further investigate the potential for diagnosis. They hope the test could be available on the NHS in as little as five years.
Do you suffer from osteoarthritis? Would early treatment have helped minimise the impact on your life? Leave your comments below...