About three million Americans suffer from arthritis as a result of joint injuries that result in slow but steady degradation of their cartilage. Injuries from sports like basketball or skiing, car accidents, and other similar traumas cause millions of us to have lasting osteoarthritis as a result of these injuries.

A new scientific development reveals that there may be a chance to prevent this form of arthritis from occurring.

Recent research by scientists at MIT have shown that a steroid drug that is commonly used to treat diseases like arthritis may actually prevent the condition from developing, if given to patients soon after the joint injury occurs.

The study was published in the Journal of Arthritis Research and Therapy in its September 2, 2011 issue, and was written by Alan Grodzinsky, Yihong Lu, both of MIT, and Christopher Evans of Harvard Medical School. Grodzinsky, the senior author of the study, is a professor of biological, mechanical, and electrical engineering, and the director of MIT's Center for Biomedical Engineering.

The study showed that the onset of cartilage breakdown common to arthritis sufferers was prevented when the damaged tissue was treated immediately with glucocorticoid dexamethasone. The drug worked best when it was used within a day or two after the trauma.

The researchers have not been able to determine if the drug could reverse cartilage damage that already occurred. But, future research in this area is bound to occur. The scientists are considering studies of animals with existing injuries to see if the treatment reverses the damage. Additionally, the scientists are examining how best to deliver the drug to the injury and how many treatments of the drug is optimal for preventing future damage.

The scientists used cow and human cartilage in the study. They damaged the tissue, and then treated it with inflammatory proteins that the body creates after joint trauma. While the researchers are not yet certain how the drug impacted the injury, it appears that the glucocorticoid dexamethasone blocked the degradation of the cartilage by the proteins.

To date, joint injuries are treated with anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and swelling, with surgery weeks or months later to correct some of the damage. The study suggests that instead, the injury should be treated immediately with the tested drug.

The treatment is exciting because, if further research shows that the drug can correct existing damage to the joints, the drug could quickly be put into circulation for this use since it is already approved for human use.

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You don't need to suffer from arthritis pain. Learn about available alternatives for arthritis treatment and osteoarthritis treatment.