The injection is based on a protein that boosts cartilage generation and reduces inflammation of the joints.
And experiments on rats and human cells have been so successful that human trials are now being planned.
The US team of researchers behind the jab claim it will mean that patients with arthritis may be able to avoid having to undergo an operation in favour of a simple shot.
Denis Evseenko, professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, explained: “The goal is to make an injectable therapy for an early to moderate level of arthritis.”
The breakthrough offers hope to the millions of people in the UK with osteoarthritis, the leading cause of joint pain and stiffness.
The goal is to make an injectable therapy for an early to moderate level of arthritis
In the UK, a staggering 10million people suffer from arthritis with 8.5million of these with the most common form osteoarthritis – which is caused by wear and tear on joints where the cartilage that cushions movement is worn away.
Currently around 400,000 people in Britain suffer from rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the body’s joints.
The often crippling condition – which has no cure – sees the immune system turn on the tissues in our knees, elbows, wrists and other joints.
It is typically diagnosed in people between the ages of 40 and 70 and affects three times as many women as men.
Scientists have developed a jab that could ease the misery of arthritis for millions of sufferers
Until now medications have been designed only to help relieve pain but these have side effects including stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and even stroke.
But the new therapy could be a “game changer” in the treatment of the condition.
It also has the potential to treat other painful inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Last night, research bodies in the UK into the condition gave a cautious welcome to news of the jab.
Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, said: “Although it’s still very early days, this injectable treatment could be promising for people with early onset osteoarthritis.
1 of 8
“This piece of research has been conducted in animals, and so it is not yet clear whether this potential therapy could be useful in humans.
“More than eight million people in the UK are living with the pain of osteoarthritis, which can have a devastating impact on everyday life, making such things as getting dressed and getting to work difficult.
“Investment in research that leads to new treatments, such as this, is key to helping these people lead the fulfilled lives they deserve.”
Scientists told how the new procedure involves injecting a small molecule into a joint.
In tests, Prof Evseenko and colleagues found that it enhances cartilage regeneration while also decreasing inflammation.
There is currently no cure for arthritis
And they were optimistic after “auspicious early results” which saw joint cartilage cells in the laboratory, proliferating more and dying less.
When injected into the knees of rats with damaged cartilage, the animals more effectively healed.
Prof Evseenko said: “It is not going to cure arthritis, but it will delay the progression of arthritis to the damaging stages when patients need joint replacements, which account for a million surgeries a year in the US.”
About 160,000 hip and knee replacements a year are carried out by the NHS in England and Wales, with the figure rising by roughly eight per cent annually as the population ages.
But as its name implies, the new molecule being injected RCGD 423 (Regulator of Cartilage Growth and Differentiation) fuels regeneration while curbing inflammation.
1 of 12
It works by communicating with a specific protein in the body. This molecule, called GP130 (glycoprotein 130) receptor, receives two very different types of signals.
These promote cartilage development in the embryo, and trigger chronic inflammation in the adult.
The new study showed the injection helped stimulate cartilage regeneration.
At the same time it blocked the inflammatory signals that can lead to cartilage degeneration over the long term.
The team is already laying the groundwork for a human clinical trial to test RCGD 423, or a similar molecule, as a treatment for osteoarthritis or juvenile arthritis.
This jab could also result in a reduction for the need for hip and knee replacement surgery
While arthritis is a condition most people associate with the elderly, it also affects an estimated 15,000 children and young people in the UK.
Prof Evseenko said he viewed RCGD 423 as a prototype for a new class of anti-inflammatory drugs with a very broad range of uses.
His lab has already developed several different types and is partnering with other scientists at USC and beyond to explore the broader potential of these molecules.
This includes using them to treat rheumatoid arthritis, jaw arthritis, lupus, neurological and heart diseases and baldness.