PLoS ONE | 2019
Frictional characterization of injectable hyaluronic acids is more predictive of clinical outcomes than traditional rheological or viscoelastic characterization
Hyaluronic acid injections have been a mainstay of arthritis treatment for decades. However, much controversy remains about their clinical efficacy and their potential mechanism of action. This approach to arthritis therapy is often called viscosupplementation, a term which is rooted in the elevated viscosity of the injected solutions. This terminology also suggests a mechanical pathway of action and further implies that their efficacy is dependent on viscosity. Notably, previous studies of the relationship between viscous properties of hyaluronic acid solutions and their clinical efficacy have not been definitive. Recently we developed an experimental and analytical framework for studying cartilage lubrication that captures the Stribeck-like behavior of cartilage in an elastoviscous transition curve. Here we apply this framework to study the lubricating behavior of six hyaluronan products currently used for injectable arthritis therapy in the US. Despite the fact that the source and chemical modifications endow these products with a range of lubricating properties, we show that the lubricating effect of all of these materials can be described by this Stribeck-like elastoviscous transition. Fitting this data to the elastoviscous transition model enables the calculation of effective lubricating viscosities for each material, which differ substantially from the viscosities measured using standard rheometry. Further we show that while data from standard rheometry are poor predictors of clinical performance of these materials, measurements of friction coefficient and effective lubricating viscosity correlate well (R2 = 0.77; p < 0.005) with assessments of improved clinical function reported previously. This approach offers both a novel method that can be used to evaluate potential clinical efficacy of hyaluronic acid formulations and provide new insight on their mode of action.