Understanding Osteoarthritis: The Impact of Weight Loss on the Knee

by Thomas M. Link, M.D. on October 30, 2014

It is well known that obesity is associated with osteoarthritis and an accelerated course of osteoarthritis. It is not well known, however, how weight loss in obese and overweight people affects the course of osteoarthritis and whether it has beneficial effects on the knee joint. An NIH research grant on the impact of weight loss on knee osteoarthritis was recently awarded to the Musculoskeletal and Quantitative Research Group at the UCSF Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging!

The currently ongoing Osteoarthritis Initiative, funded by the NIH and industry partners, is the largest study in the world with nearly 5,000 people using advanced 3 Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging techniques to study the natural course of osteoarthritis in middle-aged and older patients, an ideal population to investigate the impact of body weight changes on the course of osteoarthritis.

Under my leadership, our UCSF team was awarded an NIH grant (R01) to study obese and overweight patients from the Osteoarthritis Initiative who lose weight over a period of 4 to 8 years. We plan to investigate how this weight loss will affect the knee joint using 3 Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging techniques. The investigation will look at the biochemical composition of the knee cartilage using an advanced quantitative MRI technique termed T2 relaxation time measurement. The 3 Tesla MRI will analyze focal damage of the knee involving the cartilage, menisci, bone marrow and ligament. We will also find out exactly what types of weight loss regimens are most beneficial for the knee, including diet and physical exercise.

This exciting new project will allow researchers from the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, in collaboration with UCSF Epidemiology, to work to answer two very important musculoskeletal questions:

  • How does weight loss impact knee joint health?
  • What types of weight loss are best to prevent and slow the course of osteoarthritis?

For more information on musculoskeletal research from UCSF, please click here!

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