Mohammad (Yunus) Ansari, Ph.D., an assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology, was honored with the Post-Doctoral Short Talk Award at the Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS) Great Lakes/Midwest Regional Symposium in August.
When he’s not away presenting research, Dr. Ansari is in the lab working alongside Tariq Haqqi, Ph.D. . Together, the two members of NEOMED’s Musculoskeletal Research Focus Area study osteoarthritis, an age-related disease that also can be linked to trauma and excessive use of joints (especially in athletes and military veterans).
Breaking down a disease
Dr. Ansari believes that mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to the development of osteoarthritis in patients. To explain: Mitochondria (cellular organelle) are involved in the generation of most of the cellular energy, but are also home of several proapoptotic (cell death inducers) proteins.
“If you keep mitochondria happy, you get a bunch of energy and everything is good. The moment the mitochondria doesn’t feel good and they stop producing energy, they will become problematic and cause cell death,” says Dr. Ansari.
The second arm of Dr. Ansari’s research turns to Lysosomes. So how do lysosomes and mitochondria relate to osteoarthritis? He makes this analogy:
“Lysosomes are like trash men within the cell. They get rid of cellular aggregates, dysfunctional mitochondria and other dysfunctional organelles. Imagine there being no trash men in New York City for a week. What would the condition of the city be like? In osteoarthritis, when lysosomes lose their power to remove dysfunctional mitochondria from the cell, that dysfunctional mitochondrial population begins to produce reactive oxygen species inducing oxidative stress and inflammation.”
Chondrocytes are the only cells found in cartilage and are only produced once. There is no replacement for these cartilage cells.
“You have to keep them happy. Any deficiency or any deregulation of lysosomal function, is going to kill the cells. That will keep on increasing the degradation of cartilage and the moment the cartilage is gone – when there is bone-on-bone contact — that’s when people start feeling the pain.”
Treating the disease can be problematic due to the lack of blood supply throughout cartilage. With a limited blood supply, drugs don’t reach the cartilage, which makes treatment very difficult.
While Dr. Ansari doesn’t have an immediate cure for osteoarthritis, his research and that of Dr. Haqqi suggests that a juicy red fruit may be of help.
Dr. Ansari notes that their studies have shown that if patients with osteoarthritis consume pomegranate (the whole thing – skin included), the fruit may help maintain the cartilage health and will potentially slow the progression of the disease.
But what about natural supplements? Dr. Ansari says taking antioxidant supplements should help the symptoms of osteoarthritis, but probably won’t eliminate the disease.
Researchers like doctors Haqqi and Ansari work on a daily basis to find a better solution for treating osteoarthritis, but for now, they suggest hitting your local grocery story and cracking open a fresh pomegranate.