A Pilot Trial to Assess Low-Intensity Ultrasound in Osteoarthritis

Research project


Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis, is a prevalent and debilitating disease without therapies
that alter disease progress and is currently managed with symptom-modifying therapies that are only modestly
effective. We propose a randomized, sham-controlled clinical trial of pulsed low-intensity ultrasound (PLIUS) as a novel
yet well-justified treatment that could fundamentally alter OA management. OA affects almost 27 million Americans with an estimated annual cost of over $80 billion. The prevalence of OA
is increasing rapidly. Estimates suggest that about 60 million Americans will be affected by 2030. Still greater prevalence
is seen in members of the armed services, making it a disease of special importance to the Department of Veterans
Affairs. OA is the leading cause of lower extremity pain and disability in older age and is the leading indication for total
knee replacement (TKR), with the number of TKR procedures having more than doubled over the last decade. The
increasing burden of OA is largely because available medical management addresses only pain with long-term efficacy
that is marginal at best. In spite of substantial progress in understanding the pathogenesis of OA, no effective disease
modifying interventions have been established. Degenerative articular cartilage is central to the pathogenesis of OA, however, articular cartilage has limited
capacity for repair. Thus, the development of OA therapeutics that focus on cartilage regeneration and repair strategies
are of great importance. A large body of pre-clinical work has demonstrated the anabolic effect of mechanical
stimulation on chondrocyte metabolism. Published literature from pre-clinical and clinical bone fracture and pre-clinical
cartilage research indicate that effective mechanical stimulation can be delivered via PLIUS. These consistently positive
data affirm the need to investigate the potential of PLIUS as an important intervention for treatment of OA. We propose a Phase IIa, multi-center, randomized, sham-controlled, parallel, double-blind trial with a
prerandomization sham run-in period to determine if PLIUS is potentially more effective than sham as a symptom- and
structure-modifying intervention in patients with early OA of the knee. PLIUS will be applied using an FDA-approved
device already in clinical use for bone fracture healing. The study consists of three periods: a 28-day Screening Period, a
four week Prerandomization Sham Run-in Period and a 48-Week Sham-controlled Treatment Period. The three
recruiting centers, the Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, and San Diego Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, have extensive
experience in successfully conducting OA trials. Over a 23-month recruitment period, 178 patients with clinical and
relatively early stage radiographic knee OA meeting entry criteria will be enrolled into the pre-randomization sham run-
in period. A total of 160 patients who successfully completed the run-in period and continue to meet entry criteria will
be randomized into the sham-controlled treatment period. All patients will be followed in the treatment period for 48
weeks, which is the time point for assessment of the co-primary outcomes of symptom relief, as assessed by the
OMERACT-OARSI Responder Criteria, and structural modification, as assessed by MRI-determined medial femoral
condyle cartilage thickness. Emerging data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI) suggests that this is a sensitive and
specific measure for structural progression of OA. Innovative and exploratory disease markers, including subchondral
bone marrow lesions and soluble serum and urine biomarkers for OA will also be evaluated, along with more traditional
outcomes such as the WOMAC OA Index and radiographic joint space narrowing. The pre-clinical data supporting this study are described in the Research Plan. This project is a translational
bench-to-bedside proposal targeting a highly debilitating, prevalent, and costly disease for which current treatment
options are exceedingly limited. We have assembled an outstanding collaborative team of clinical scientists in leading
OA centers within the Department of Veterans Affairs. If this intervention is successful and subsequently confirmed as a
effective treatment for OA in a pivotal trial, it could fundamentally change the standard of care for this highly prevalent
and debilitating disease, potentially improving the quality of life for tens of millions of veterans and other Americans.
Effective start/end date10/1/149/30/19


  • National Institutes of Health
  • National Institutes of Health


Knee Osteoarthritis
Bone Fractures
Articular Cartilage
Anabolic Agents
Fracture Healing
Standard of Care
Random Allocation
Lower Extremity
Randomized Controlled Trials


  • Medicine(all)