Bad knees might cause broken hearts

Exciting research is set to get underway investigating a ground-breaking approach to reduce osteoarthritis associated heart disease.

Kolling Institute researcher Professor Chris Little will lead the project after receiving a highly competitive National Health and Medical Research Council Ideas grant of close to a million dollars.

Professor Little and Dr Cindy Shu from the Raymond Purves Bone and Joint Research Lab will collaborate on the novel study with Kolling heart disease researcher Dr Anastasia Mihailidou and Professor Anthony Ashton from the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research in the USA.

Professor Little has welcomed the significant funding, saying it follows years of specialised work in this field.

“We’re very excited about this research and we’re hopeful it may make a big difference,” he said.

“We have known about the link between osteoarthritis and heart disease for many years, with those experiencing osteoarthritis twice as likely to develop heart disease as those without the painful joint condition.

“We had thought the conditions were linked because they shared the same risk factors like age, obesity and a lack of exercise, but our recent research has showed for the first time, that there might be a biological connection where the joint disease might actually be causing heart disease.

“Our team found that if we induced osteoarthritis in one knee of a mouse that was otherwise fit, young and healthy, within 16 weeks that mouse had evidence of heart disease.

“We then went onto show that if you take serum from these mice or a patient who has diseased joint tissue from a knee injury like a cruciate ligament tear, that serum caused heart cells to become sick.

“We were able to identify a group of factors (micro-RNAs) that were released into the blood from the joint tissue that were causing this.”

The new research project funded through the NHMRC will now investigate which specific micro RNAs are contributing to the development of heart disease.

“If we can define which factors released into the blood are the most important, we may be able to help develop a new diagnostic tool for heart disease and potentially stop osteoarthritis contributing to cardiovascular disease,” Professor Little said.

“Our research could lead to both a diagnostic test as well as a therapeutic target. It could change the health advice around risk factors for heart disease.

“Our grant success highlights the breadth of expertise we have at the Kolling and the impact of collaboration, where we have researchers specialising in different fields coming together to identify new avenues to research.

“It’s certainly one of the great things about working in the Kolling.

“I would like to acknowledge the crucial preliminary work undertaken by Dr Cindy Shu, and the earlier financial support from the Raymond E. Purves Foundation and the Hillcrest Foundation through Perpetual Philanthropy.”

There was further good news for the Kolling with musculoskeletal researcher Dr Jillian Eyles receiving a prestigious $660,000 Investigator grant to develop strategies to promote best-practice for osteoarthritis care.

It’s estimated close to 30 per cent of the population experiences osteoarthritis.