Thursday, December 20, 2007

SMURFS in your knees

If this title does not bring silly blue cartoon characters to mind, then you did not raise a small child in the '80's. Those of us who were child-rearers 2 decades ago may well be a subset of the aging population at risk for osteoarthritis of the knees. And now smurfs take on a whole new meaning.

In a degenerating knee sort of way, smurfs are enzymes also known as "Smad Ubiquitination Regulatory Factors." Turned-on smurf2 can turn cartilage cells into hard bone, a good thing if you happen to be a growing child. But smurf2 in an injured knee--say one that was pivoted in the wrong way whilst running cross a tennis court--can set off a chain reaction that ultimately results in the deterioration of the joint. Over time with repeated insults, poof! you got no cartilage but just the dreaded 'bone-on-bone' sort of painful knee joint that's destined for replacement. "Or," says Randy Rosier, MD of the University of Rochester "put another way, activation of smurf2 in the joint cartilage appears to significantly contribute to the onset of osteoarthritis."

Rosier and company are setting out to determine if patients with high smurf2 expression in an injured meniscus demonstrate accelerated wear-and-tear with loss of cartilage within 3 years of the injury. While the Rochester docs know of no way to halt the rampaging smurfs, they do think that the over-smurfed among us can be counseled to change their high impact activities and save their knees.
*The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of cartilage on either side of the knee joint. These two wedges of cartilage cup the rounded end of the femur atop the flattened tibia below, stabilizing the two bones of the knee into a smoothly functioning hinged joint.

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