A Medical Mystery in Middle China

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Science  12 Jun 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5933, pp. 1378-1381
DOI: 10.1126/science.324_1378

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China has launched a 5-year, $240 million initiative that aims to stamp out Kashin-Beck disease (KBD), a little-known ailment that has crippled and stunted the growth of hundreds of thousands of people in China's heartland. The program will first fine-tune intervention and treatment strategies in a pilot area before expanding them to other regions. Some researchers say victory is near, predicting that by 2020, there will be no new KBD cases. But the riddle of KBD's origin is as potent as ever. Researchers have made strides in unraveling how KBD warps skeletal growth, and the hunt is on for genes that confer susceptibility or resistance. Figuring out the ailment's cause could offer insights into cartilage metabolism and common degenerative maladies of the Western world, such as osteoarthritis.