Scientists hope they could soon be able to delay the progression of osteoarthritis and prevent painful joint replacements.
Scientists are optimistic about treatment
Researchers at the University of Manchester's School of Biological Science hope their work will lead to an effective new treatment for the millions in the UK with osteoarthritis.
Dr Gillian Wallis, a senior lecturer in medicine who is helping lead the research programme, said they hoped to develop a type of gene therapy.
"We're very optimistic. We've been working towards this for about 10 years now, and we're at the point where we can talk about developing treatment.
"We're confident that we will find effective target genes, which we then plan to introduce into joints using carrier viruses.
"Obviously we are still very much at the research stage, but if all our laboratory experiments work out then we hope to translate the results directly into clinical practice."
She said they hoped this would mean fewer painful operations for those with the condition.
We're at the point where we can talk about developing treatment
"At the moment the only thing for people is to have joint replacement therapy.
"But these joint replacements are not going to last for ever.
"They might last for 10 years, but then if you get it when you are in your 60's then you could be having a couple of joint replacements.
"We are looking at ways of inhibiting the disease."
About two million people in the UK have osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis.
It is an incurable degenerative form of joint disease, for which there is currently no effective treatment.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage, the smooth surface between the ends if the bone wears away, leaving the bone rubbing against bone.
Often this leads to the growth of extra bony spurs around the joint.
Eventually this leads to the cartilage becoming damaged and causing joint destruction.
And as the population ages and becomes more overweight the number of people with osteoarthritis is increasing.
The only treatment currently available for people with osteoarthritis are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which alleviate the symptoms, but do not affect the disease's progression.
But many patients cannot tolerate these drugs, which often cause side effects such as stomach problems.
The Manchester research is being funded by a £685,000 grant from the charity the Arthritis Research Campaign.