Scientists warn of 'tsunami' of osteoarthritis cases by 2050

, medical expert
Last reviewed: 14.06.2024

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20 May 2024, 13:29

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease that affects weight-bearing joints. The knees, hips, spine and small joints of the hands are most commonly affected. Two out of three people over 50 experience cracking and creaking joints, causing daily pain and reducing mobility. This problem is growing due to the aging population and the increase in the number of people with a sedentary lifestyle, overweight and obesity.

Osteoarthritis is also surprisingly common among young people, especially those with unhealthy lifestyles, poor nutrition, and athletic young people who have suffered traumatic joint injuries. In severe cases, arthritis can cause significant disability.

Overall, osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that requires ongoing management to relieve symptoms and maintain joint function. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve overall joint health.

Although osteoarthritis affects more than 500 million people worldwide, there is no treatment or approved drugs to treat or prevent the disease, according to the World Health Organization. The only treatments available are painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and total joint replacement.

This highlights the societal impact of the disease and the need for greater action to develop more effective treatments that can be used to treat and prevent osteoarthritis.

New consortium to solve the problem

By 2050, one in three will suffer from osteoarthritis, and there is currently no cure. Therefore, the goal of NetwOArk COST Action - the Open European Network on Osteoarthritis - is to create a European Osteoarthritis Society. Launched in October 2022, the network brings together patients, clinicians and researchers from academia and industry in 17 countries.

NetwOArk intends to create an inclusive network and new society that brings together all key stakeholders, including patients, patient advocacy groups, scientists, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, small and medium-sized enterprises, medical device manufacturers and policymakers.

"COST Actions gives us, as a community of people interested in OA (patients, researchers, clinicians), the opportunity to create a real network! So with NetwOArk the next steps are and will be available," says Corne Baatenburg de Jong, Chairman of NetwOArk.

This collaborative network highlights the urgent need to address this problem by raising public and policy-maker awareness of the severity of osteoarthritis and its impact on society.

This is timely and important as the burden of osteoarthritis in Europe is enormous and a “tsunami” of osteoarthritis cases is expected to hit healthcare systems by 2050, potentially adding months and years to already unacceptably long waiting lists for joint replacement surgery.

Communication is the key to success

"Osteoarthritis is a serious disease that represents a significant global burden and remains a major barrier to freedom of movement in severe cases, leading to significant morbidity in the aging population. One of the main challenges is to communicate the latest research advances to patients, physicians and the general public.

"Another significant challenge is educating healthcare professionals on the latest treatment recommendations and research findings. The main goal of NetwOArk is to bring together all key stakeholders and create a strong community of European researchers dedicated to osteoarthritis research and clinical development," says Professor Ali Mobasheri, Science Communication Coordinator NetwOArk.

In the long term, NetwOArk aims to transfer this scientific knowledge to national OA patient organizations, clinicians and policymakers to create a strong European research platform. In addition, transfer scientific knowledge from experimental research in laboratories to the private sector to highlight the importance of prevention and facilitate the development of new treatments.

For the first time, the network consolidates and expands the efforts of national research programs in primary care, rheumatology, orthopedics, public health, pain medicine, psychology, pharmacy, cell therapy, physical therapy, nutrition, public health, occupational therapy, epidemiology and health economics.

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