Treat osteoarthritis at an earlier stage and target personalized management

Researchers from the Flagship ‘Healthy Joints’ aim to prevent, diagnose and treat osteoarthritis at an earlier stage and target personalized management.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease characterised by painful joints and the wearing down of cartilage, most often in the hips and knees. One in ten people in the Netherlands suffer from osteoarthritis at some stage. As people generally live longer nowadays, this means that they could be facing the negative effects of the disease for many years. There is no cure. Beyond alleviating pain symptoms, worn out joints might eventually be replaced with prosthetics. The disease has a major impact on personal lives and public health, not only in terms of care but also in terms of costs. An estimated 1 to 2 per cent of GDP is spent on costs that are directly or indirectly related to osteoarthritis.

No cure

The Convergence Flagship Healthy Joints aims to come up with solutions to this problem. ‘It is for the very reason that there is no cure for osteoarthritis yet, that we must focus our attention far more on prevention’, says Flagship lead Sita Biersma-Zeinstra. ‘A broad and multidisciplinary approach is needed for us to get a clearer idea, and to develop a new approach.’


Researchers from this Flagship aim to study interventions in respect of people who are known to have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis, and secondly, interventions in a much earlier phase of the disease. ‘We will be studying the various processes that lead to osteoarthritis by close observation of models of joints. And we will use AI to discover how exactly various kinds of osteoarthritis can be recognised and diagnosed. Our aim is to arrive at a more personalised approach to the disease.’

In addition to the medical and technical specialists, behavioural scientists, engineers and econometricians are also involved in Healthy Joints’. ‘Behavioural Science is very important for solving these kinds of extensive medical-social problems’, says Biersma-Zeinstra. ‘If you want to implement prevention, you need to work with patients who do not yet have any symptoms. You ask them to take medication, change their lifestyle or do specific exercises. Obviously, they do not necessarily recognise the value of this immediately. For this reason, you must have a well-thought-out approach, so that people understand what they’re doing and, therefore, persevere with their treatment.’