Scientists Aim To Cure Osteoarthritis Within 5 Years By Creating Self-Healing Joints

BOULDER, Colo. — For the millions of people worldwide who suffer from the painful, debilitating effects of osteoarthritis, a groundbreaking new research project offers a tantalizing glimmer of hope. Led by a dream team of scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder, the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, and Colorado State University, the project has an ambitious goal: to develop a suite of non-invasive therapies that can end osteoarthritis within five years.

💡What To Know About Osteoarthritis:

Osteoarthritis, the third most common disease in the U.S., affects roughly one in six people over age 30 worldwide. As the population ages and becomes more sedentary, those numbers are only expected to rise. The disease causes the cartilage that cushions our joints to break down, leading to painful bone-on-bone grinding. Over time, the bones themselves can become damaged and misshapen.

Currently, treatment options are limited to managing pain and, when that’s no longer enough, undergoing joint replacement surgery. There is no cure. But the Colorado-based research team, armed with a grant of up to $39 million from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), is determined to change that.

“Within five years, our goal is to develop a suite of non-invasive therapies that can end osteoarthritis,” project leader Stephanie Bryant, PhD, professor at CU Boulder, declares in a statement. “It could be an absolute game-changer for patients.”

The team’s approach is two-fold: addressing both the biological and structural problems that characterize osteoarthritis. On the biological front, co-Principal Investigator Michael Zuscik, PhD, professor at the Anschutz Medical Campus, has spent 15 years developing and testing a drug that coaxes cartilage and bone cells to produce the proteins needed to rebuild themselves. The catch? It currently requires daily injections.

Enter Bryant, a materials scientist who has spent over two decades developing 3D gel-like biomaterials that can slip into the cracks of damaged cartilage and bone, providing a supportive scaffolding for the body’s own cells to migrate to and repair the tissue – like the joists of a new building.

Meanwhile, scientists at CSU have been honing gene therapy techniques to control inflammation and speed up cartilage healing.

Points of arthritis throughout the body
Osteoarthritis, the third most common disease in the U.S., affects roughly one in six people over age 30 worldwide. (© –

Now, with the ARPA-H funding, the team can finally bring these pieces together. The engineering challenge they face is to devise methods to deliver these regenerative therapies to the body in a way that provides lasting benefits and can treat multiple joints at once if needed.

Their solution? Nanoparticles that can be administered intravenously, serving as tiny Trojan horses that migrate to inflamed joints and deliver a healing cocktail that enables the body to repair itself.

The team’s ultimate goal is to commercialize three innovations: a single healing shot that can stop joint damage and kick-start regrowth; an injury-patching hydrogel for more advanced cases; and an annual infusion for systemically treating osteoarthritis throughout the body.

When it’s time for trials, co-Principal Investigator Laurie Goodrich, DVM PhD, a veterinary clinician scientist at CSU, will lead the charge in animals.

“CSU’s expertise in veterinary medicine will play a crucial role in helping to move this science to the next step,” says Goodrich. “It’s humbling to be a part of it.”

Within 3.5 years, the team hopes to begin conducting trials in human patients. However, developing these treatments is only half the battle, according to co-Principal Investigator Karin Payne, PhD, associate professor at CU Anschutz.

“At the core of this, the goal is to develop a therapy that’s going to be available to all Americans, not just a privileged few,” Payne said.

The researchers plan to include a demographically diverse group of study participants and work to minimize costs to ensure the treatments are as affordable and accessible as possible.

The Colorado team is one of five to receive an award under ARPA-H’s Novel Innovations for Tissue Regeneration in Osteoarthritis (NITRO) program, the new federal agency’s first initiative aimed at tackling some of society’s most challenging health problems. For the researchers, many of whom have spent their entire careers working toward this goal, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to make a real difference in patients’ lives.

“This is one of the most debilitating diseases there is and leads to people not being able to work or do the things they love,” Bryant said. “For us to have a chance to improve people’s lives – it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”

While there’s still a long road ahead, for the millions suffering from osteoarthritis, this ambitious project offers something that has long been in short supply: hope. Hope that one day, a simple shot could erase their pain and give them back the freedom to move. Hope that the dream of joints that can heal themselves might not be so far-fetched after all.


  1. What happened to Prolotherapy? Charles Everett Koop wrote the foreward to a book on the subject, it was working for everyone seemingly… if something has no bad side effects, and works for lots of people then who needs a lot of science to ok it?

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