In a development that calls to mind the oil used for the tin man in the “Wizard of Oz,” Boston University engineers have come up with a new synthetic lubricant — something they call “joint oil” — that promises longer relief for osteoarthritis sufferers than current treatments.
The team says the new joint compound is made from a synthetic polymer that supplements synovial fluid, the natural lubricant in joints, and works better than comparable treatments now used widely to ease pain and improve flexibility.
"From our studies, we know our biopolymer is a superior lubricant in the joint, much better than the leading synovial fluid supplement, and similar to healthy synovial fluid," said BU professor of biomedical engineering Mark W. Grinstaff, who helped develop the lubricant, described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
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"When we used this new polymer, the friction between the two cartilage surfaces was lower, resulting in less wear and surface-to-surface interaction. It's like oil for the joints."
Grinstaff said the best fluid supplement now available offers temporary symptom relief but does not prevent further degradation of the cartilage surfaces that cushion the joint. The new joint oil — developed by a team from BU, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Harvard Medical School — achieves both goals, he added.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint disease and a leading cause of disability in seniors, affecting about 27 million Americans and 200 million people worldwide. It can cause pain and swelling in the hand, hip, knee, and other used joints where degradation of cartilage and synovial fluid results in bone-on-bone abrasion.
Treatments range from anti-inflammatory drugs to total joint replacement. While there's no cure, the new joint oil promises to relieve symptoms and slow the disease's progression by reducing wear on cartilage surfaces, Grinstaff said.
"You put it between your fingers, and it's slippery," he noted. "Once we made it, we wondered if we could use it as a lubricant and where it would be useful. That's how we thought of using it as a potential treatment for [osteoarthritis]."
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