Less pain from osteoarthritis thanks to new technology

Eighty-five per cent of people suffering from osteoarthritis endure pain every day. Since there is still no cure, is important to start the correct treatment of symptoms as early as possible. Professor Jaap Harlaar is set to make an important and innovative contribution to problem.

Osteoarthritis is a form of rheumatism that involves a deterioration of the cartilage that cushions our joints. With our aging population, a great proportion of people is being faced with arthritis. It is estimated that the Netherlands already counts 1.5 million patients suffering from arthritis. In particular, women over the age of fifty have a high risk of contracting this disease. However, injuries (including those sustained while playing sports) can also cause arthritis in younger people as well. “Osteoarthritis symptoms differ from one individual to the next and can be caused by different things,” Harlaar explains. “These symptoms can be treated, but for each person you need to determine the mechanical load on the cartilage. Thus far, this has not been easy to accomplish, and a range of approaches is often required. As a result, it can take a long time before someone is really helped.”

Biomechanics and fluoroscopy

In classic biomechanics, human movement is studied by means of, for example, the registration of motion and force. Harlaar now wants to combine this with radiology technology. In a yet-to-be built lab at Erasmus MC, he will be augmenting biomechanics with fluoroscopy. He will be using twin X-ray machines to record how bones move in relation to one another. A 3D model will then help his team deduce the mechanical load applied to the cartilage. “This will allow us to see what is happening in every individual case and decide what treatment is most appropriate to reduce the symptoms. This kind of ‘precision diagnosis’ saves time and money and, most of all, it saves the patient a lot of discomfort and pain.”

Available to patients soon

If funding can be finalised on time, construction of the lab will start this year. The fact that it will be taking place in a medical centre makes it extra special. “We will be adding our new technology directly to the existing healthcare system, which means that this innovation will be available to patients as soon as possible. My dream is to examine every patient with early osteoarthritis in this way within the coming five to eight years. This will allow us to start the correct treatment right away and in this way limit the burden of the disease. It is so important to be able to move independently and free of pain, also as we advance in age. To be able to do the things we enjoy and to stay healthy. This project contributes to our ability to achieve this.”

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This precision diagnosis saves time, money and, above all, a lot of discomfort and pain for the patient

Jaap Harlaar

TU Delft

Professor of Clinical Biomechatronics