A tiny laser, 100 times brighter than the Sun, could help to treat arthritic knees and prevent the need for joint replacement surgery.
The laser light is inserted into a vein in the arm, where researchers believe it will accelerate blood flow around the body — bringing more nutrients and oxygen to speed up the repair of damaged tissue in worn-out joints, as well as having an anti-inflammatory effect.
It’s also thought to trigger the release of stem cells, the body’s master cells, which can help form new tissue.
The technique is being used in a clinical trial in Taiwan involving 20 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Results are being compared with a placebo, where the laser is turned off.
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, results from the gradual wear and tear of shock-absorbing cartilage that coats the ends of the joints.
Treatments range from over-the-counter painkillers to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, which work for some — but not all — and steroid injections, to reduce inflammation and pain.
Each year, more than 70,000 NHS knee replacement operations are carried out, more than 90 per cent of which are due to advanced knee osteoarthritis.
It is hoped that the laser treatment — first used to treat heart disease in the 1980s — will offer a less invasive alternative.
In the latest trial, the laser treatment, known as intravascular laser blood irradiation, will be administered via a laser fibre which is inserted into a vein in the arm using a catheter (a thin tube).
The laser is switched on for 60 minutes, once a day for five consecutive days.
It is thought that radiation, or energy, produced by the laser helps blood to flow better.
The blood can also carry more oxygen — probably because the laser affects haemoglobin, the red blood cell protein that ferries oxygen around the body.
A 2013 study involving rats with induced arthritis, and reported in the journal Lasers in Medical Science, discovered that the therapy may increase levels of anti-inflammatory cells.
In addition, a previous study, on children with juvenile arthritis suggests laser treatment could also be effective in humans.
The research, which was also conducted in 2013 and reported in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, discovered that patients treated with lasers reported double the improvements of those given placebo treatment.
In the latest trial, being conducted at the Tri-Service General Hospital and Ministry of Science and Technology, in Taiwan, patients will have regular blood samples — taken three days, one month and three months after the therapy — to monitor the effects of the laser treatment.
Pain levels and joint movement will also be assessed in the study.
Roger Hackney, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Spire and Nuffield hospitals, in Leeds, says: ‘With this kind of study, it is crucial to employ “blinding” — in other words the patient does not know whether they are receiving an active treatment or not.
‘The placebo effect is very real and can be very effective if measurements such as patient-reported pain scores are used for outcomes.
‘It will be interesting to see the results.’
Blood plasma jabs are more effective than steroids for treating knee pain from arthritis, according to a study from the University of Tiradentes, Brazil.
Patients were injected with steroids or their own platelet-rich plasma (PRP), separated from blood in a centrifuge. PRP has high levels of growth factors that could encourage cartilage cells.
The trial, involving 50 patients and reported in the Brazilian Journal of Orthopaedics, showed that while both treatments reduced pain, the effects of the blood jab lasted longer — 180 compared with 30 days.
The source: Dailymail