Researchers Employ Nanotechnology to Better Track Osteoarthritis Progression

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have found a way to measure a specific molecular indicator of osteoarthritis and other inflammatory diseases using a novel technology. In their preclinical study, the scientists utilized a solid-state nanopore sensor to analyze patient’s hyaluronic acid (HA) levels.

HA is a molecule naturally occurring in human joints and is involved with tissue hydration, joint lubrication, and inflammation. Both the abundance and size distribution of HA in the human body are known to be indicative of inflammation, which leads to osteoarthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Measuring and tracking HA levels also serves as a means of tracking disease progression.

“Our results established a new, quantitative method for the assessment of a significant molecular biomarker that bridges a gap in the conventional technology,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Adam R. Hall, professor of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest School of Medicine. “The sensitivity, speed and small sample requirements of this approach make it attractive as the basis for a powerful analytic tool with distinct advantages over current assessment technologies.”

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Published in Nature Communications, the study was led by Hall and Elaheh Rahbar of Wake Forest Baptist, and included collaborators from the University of Oklahoma and Cornell University. The research team employed synthetic HA polymers to confirm their measurement approach, then used this platform to analyze size distribution of HA. This HA was extracted from synovial fluid of a horse model of osteoarthritis, and was able to determine size distribution of 10 nanograms of the molecule.

Below is an image of researcher Adam Hall injecting fluid into a cell containing the nanopore device that has is capable of detecting HA biomarkers of disease.


The method of measurement involves using a microchip with a single pore that is about 5,000 times smaller than a human hair. At a diameter of only a few nanometers, this pore is small enough to selectively allow individual molecules to pass through. Using this technology with HA molecules, the scientists determined their size in an individual manner. They found that the HA size distribution varied over time through osteoarthritis progression, a quality which Hall attributes to this technologies success in tracking disease progression.

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“By using a minimally invasive procedure to extract a tiny amount of fluid – in this case synovial fluid from the knee – we may be able to identify the disease or determine how far it has progressed, which is valuable information for doctors in determining appropriate treatments,” he claimed.

Hall said that the most commonly used method of measuring HA levels is gel electrophoresis, which is a slower method that requires a greater quantity of starting material and is not fully quantitative. Other widely used technologies include size exclusion chromatography and mass spectrometry, which are more expensive and limited in range. These methods are also lack precision and quantitative mechanisms.

The research team aspires to conduct future studies in humans, and to then expand their technology to other diseases in which HA and similar molecules are key contributors. These conditions would include cancer and traumatic injury.

Source: ScienceDaily