UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center scientist Lara Longobardi, PhD, is conducting research designed to yield important new insights into the causes of osteoarthritis, with the goal of helping identify better ways to diagnose and treat the disease. Her work is largely focused on the role played by chemokines (pro-inflammatory molecules) in cartilage and bone degeneration after an injury, and how they affect the pain response.
Specifically, Dr. Longobardi’s research team is focusing on the C-C chemokine receptor 2 (CCR2). This is the receptor for several chemokines involved in the early phase of cartilage and bone degeneration during osteoarthritis following injury, as well as during aging. Her lab uses an in vivo model of OA to understand whether targeting the CCR2 receptor prevents or delays the pathological changes in articular cartilage and bone induced by OA. She is also analyzing pain-related behavioral data to understand the contribution of the CCR2 receptor to pain perception during osteoarthritis.
These types of insights are important to the medical community because they provide clues that may result in more effective treatments for osteoarthritis (OA), a disease which affects over 30 million Americans, and is a leading cause of disability in the adult population. Scientists now know that nearly half of the people who sustain significant knee damage will later develop injury-induced OA. Age also plays a significant role in osteoarthritis, and it is estimated that half of the world’s population aged 65 and older suffers from this disease.
The goal, says Longobardi, is to find new targets to control joint degeneration and pain during the early steps of osteoarthritis development.
Her research is made possible thanks to the NIH National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), which dedicated $1.7 million dollars over a 5-year period to investigate the role of CCR2 in osteoarthritis.