New Breakthrough Osteoarthritis Molecule

Stem Cell Therapy | Osteoarthritis Molecule

New Breakthrough Osteoarthritis Molecule

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic degenerative joint disease that affects 27 million Americans and ultimately leads to irreversible joint damage. Over time, OA destroys the smooth layer of articular cartilage that cushions the ends of bones where they come together to form joints. As the disease progresses, the cartilage thins, fluid leaks into the joint lining, and bones begin to grind together, causing pain, swelling, and loss of motion.

Denis Evseenko, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC), is accelerating the discovery of novel ways to heal damaged joints and regenerate healthy tissue.

“Currently, the only treatments for osteoarthritis are pain control and total joint replacement,” says Dr. Evseenko. “New strategies to prevent OA and repair damaged cartilage are urgently needed.”

In the hope of translating basic research into vital therapies, Dr. Evseenko’s lab is investigating two complementary approaches.

“We are in the late stages of preclinical development of a potential molecule (drug) that appears to have profound anti-inflammatory and growth-stimulating activity,” he explains. “At the same time, we are working to scale up the production of stem cells that can become cartilage, which can be implanted into joints to repair localized defects.”

Deni Evseenko | Osteoarthritis Research Breakthrough

In 2015, Dr. Evseenko, then a junior faculty member, began a pilot research program with funding from the Arthritis National Research Foundation. Today, his goal remains the same — to develop drug therapies and regenerative stem cells to repair cartilage damage. His lab at USC is currently funded by private venture capital and government grants, including a recent $2.5 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

New Osteoarthritis Molecule Helps Regenerate Joints

Osteoarthritis is driven by the body’s inflammatory response to repetitive stress or injury. Chronic “wear and tear” often contributes to OA and painfully disrupts the delicate workings of the joint, permanently damaging the underlying bone and connective tissues.

Although total joint replacement surgery relieves pain, artificial joints typically last only about 15-20 years, necessitating “revision” surgery later in life.

Some of the youngest people to experience osteoarthritis are professional athletes. Professional athletes with deteriorating joints often develop significant symptoms of arthritis 10 years after an injury occurred. Because younger people have better regenerative powers, athletes are the initial target population for early interventions based on Dr. Evseenko’s pioneering research.

Could this new osteoarthritis molecule stimulate cartilage regrowth by returning cells to an earlier developmental stage? Could stem cell grafts be used to repair damaged cartilage? And, will a combined approach someday replace joint replacement surgery?

In his two-part process Dr. Evseenko first uses a new approach with pluripotent stem cells, stem cells which can generate into any cell type in the body, to generate long-lasting articular cartilage. He anticipates that this new stem cell therapy could reach human clinical trials within three years and he is also exploring ways to successfully bank regenerated cells for future use in cartilage tissue repair.

Dr. Evseenko believes that stem cell-based therapy may eventually lead to transplants for patients with cartilage injury or degenerative arthritis, potentially delaying or even preventing the need for total joint replacement.

In the second part of their approach, Dr. Evseenko and his team are currently beginning large animal trials to test a breakthrough osteoarthritis molecule (drug candidate) that may stimulate the regeneration and growth of new cartilage.

Osteoarthritis Molecule | Cartilage Regeneration
ANRF Board Member, Kevin Donohue, peers into a tube with live cartilage generation ongoing while touring the Evseenko Lab

Since cartilage has very limited ability to regrow, the discovery of a drug that reverts cells and stimulates the ability for rapid cell division like when in the womb would be a major advance in cartilage regeneration and repair. This molecule can be used to regenerate joints in complement to stem cell therapy or without stem cells altogether, depending on the severity of the osteoarthritis.

However, before any drug goes on the market, it must undergo extensive testing to assure that it’s safe and effective. “It’s difficult to predict when any drug will reach patients,” Dr. Eveseenko explains. “Once a potential drug begins clinical trials, the process becomes more about the regulatory agencies and less about the science.”

The Valley of Death

Beyond sheer energy and talent, scientists are engaged in an endless struggle to secure the research dollars that support their discoveries. Early in his career, Dr. Evseenko experienced the limitations of therapeutic opportunities for scientists doing basic research. He saw many hopeful discoveries die before they ever reached patients who are eagerly awaiting a cure. Today, he urges funders to continue fueling the breakthroughs so vital to the discovery of new therapies and reiterates how important funding, from foundation’s like the Arthritis National Research Foundation, is to pushing the research field forward.

Researchers in the biomedical field have a specific term for the crucial moment when funding for basic research runs out, they call it the “valley of death.” There are few who want to take a chance on a multimillion-dollar experimental therapy that may fail.

“Say you come up with a promising small molecule, but you don’t know if it will be safe and efficient in a large animal study,” he says. “It’s no longer research — now it’s drug development, which costs millions. You talk to Big Pharma and biotech venture capital, but what if it’s toxic or unsafe? As a result, 95% of researchers drop the idea, get a grant to study something else, and never go on to the next stage.”

Dr. Evseenko is among the lucky few who has received grants to continue work that began with his early research grant from ANRF. “Thanks to those first steps with stem cells, my lab is translating arthritis research into potential new therapies bringing hope of relief to the millions of people worldwide suffering from osteoarthritis.”

But there is more work to be done for Dr. Evseenko and all of the Arthritis National Research Foundation researchers. The Foundation cannot support this research without the help of the Cure Arthritis community, through awareness, fundraising and donations. Researchers like Dr. Evseenko depend on the community coming together so they can further their work and push for better treatments and cures.

Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

  • Avatar
    Linda Jones
    Posted at 16:06h, 21 January Reply

    Have severe OA in both hands. I had 2 joint replacements about 8 years ago and need total joint replacement now in both hands. Would love to be considered to try out any new drug or treatment for OA.

    • CureArthritis
      Posted at 09:19h, 14 March Reply

      Keep an eye on for any new treatments in clinical trials.

  • Avatar
    Martha Martinez
    Posted at 20:32h, 13 March Reply

    I have osteoarthritis in both knees I want to do the stem cells but I don’t have the funds is very expensive and I am a low income resident please help giving me the resources I am desperate and in a lot of pain

    • CureArthritis
      Posted at 09:18h, 14 March Reply

      Hi Martha, we completely understand. Please note that many of the stem cell centers currently in America are unregulated and we do not recommend their services yet. While some people have found relief, this Foundation is waiting until proven therapies are sanctioned before supporting stem cell treatment. Dr. Evseenko’s work is just now making it into clinical trials and it will be a number of years before it hits the marketplace.

  • Avatar
    Carola Parker
    Posted at 10:10h, 18 April Reply

    I have had OA for 30 years. My cervical and lumbar spine have been the most affected. I keep very active and exercise regularly, even; as I work through pain cycles. I have an excellent PT and osteopath, DO who give me the best support. OA is now affecting my fingers and for two I need to have joint replacement surgery. I would like to know about clinical trials and be given consideration to participate.

  • Avatar
    Donna McCrory
    Posted at 15:30h, 03 May Reply

    I have severe arthritis in both hands have had two joints removed and pinned. They now hurt in in second joints and both thumbs. I have had one TKR. The pain is unbarable at times. I can’t take anti inflammatory drugs due stomach issues.
    I try every natural treatment I learn about.
    Can anyone recommend something that works?

  • Avatar
    Debra Mikolaizik
    Posted at 12:21h, 12 June Reply

    I have severe OA in my fingers, not so severe in my foot, knee, neck and shoulder. I had a customer tell me to try shark cartilage. I’ve only taken 6 pills so far and feel a difference. Hope researchers do more research on shark cartilage. Think it might result in some miracles!!!

  • Avatar
    Keith Gattie
    Posted at 10:38h, 13 June Reply

    Since hips and knees can be replaced…is there not a procedure where a thin durable piece of rubber can be inserted to
    replace the cartilage between the rubbing bones? I have it in my right foot and no way I’m getting my foot fused…..

    • CureArthritis
      Posted at 10:51h, 13 June Reply

      Every situation and placement is different, rubber has not traditionally worked under the load and pressure in people’s load-bearing joints.

  • Avatar
    Jeff Leach
    Posted at 15:53h, 21 September Reply

    Definitely interested in your work. Few years ago diagnosed with OA in both hips. I am 45+ yrs old athletic and would welcome opportunity to be considered for your human trials.

    • CureArthritis
      Posted at 15:02h, 24 September Reply

      Hi there Jeff – we appreciate your interest. All available clinical trial opportunities are posted on

  • Avatar
    robert fortey
    Posted at 16:01h, 22 September Reply

    I have severe OA in both knees. Could your molecule or Agili C help?

  • Avatar
    Mary Ratsakas
    Posted at 18:25h, 17 December Reply

    I have arthiritis in my Big Toe can this treatment work for this.

    When do you anticipate this drug will become available to the general public. and if so will it become available in Australia.

    • ANRF
      Posted at 09:01h, 26 December Reply

      This is still in the initial phases. We will report on it again when it goes to clinical trials. There is no timeline yet. Sorry.

  • Avatar
    Kris Hursey
    Posted at 22:19h, 27 January Reply

    I have severe osteoarthritis in both feet. I have had two failed fusion surgeries on my right foot, and it is worse off than before the initial surgery. At the rate the osteo is advancing, I am worried that one day in the not so distant future I will no longer be able to walk. Can I be put on a mailing list of all the latest advances in the treatment of osteo, or should I just check your website periodically?

  • Avatar
    Francisco Hevia
    Posted at 16:43h, 26 February Reply

    I’m 62 and have had double knee replacement, a hip replacement and am close to another hip and an ankle. Nothing other than drugs and surgeries have been able to help! Help!

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