The technique also detects spinal disc degeneration, report NYU researchers Alexej Jerschow, PhD, and Ravinder R. Regatte, PhD, at the 236th annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, held Aug. 17-21 in Philadelphia.
"Our methods have the potential of providing early warning signs for cartilage disorders like osteoarthritis, thus potentially avoiding surgery and physical therapy later on," Jerschow says in a news release.
The test detects glycosaminoglycan or GAG, the polymer that gives cartilage (the material that cushions our joints) it's toughness and elasticity. Loss of GAG heralds the onset of osteoarthritis.
The new test maps GAG in the joint, showing where levels are low and osteoarthritis is beginning.
The Arthritis Foundation stresses that early diagnosis and treatment of osteoarthritis is the key to successful treatment. Jerschow and Regatte say their test could help in this regard.
They also suggest that it could help researchers test new arthritis treatments more quickly by showing whether new therapies are working.
"I really hope it will develop into the gold standard technique," Jerschow says. "I'm pretty confident that it's one of the better methods out there for testing cartilage health."