Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Prevention on the Horizon?
New Study Shows Promising Results
Researchers from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine created a way to potentially prevent or reverse rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by imitating a molecule that causes attacking immune cells to self-destruct.
Featured in the February 2010 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, this study involved no human subjects—only mice were studied. However, these findings may help develop an entirely new class of rheumatoid arthritis medications if they are found equally as effective in humans.
Understanding Immune Cells in Patients with RA
One of the lead researchers, Harris Perlman, PhD found that the immune cells present with rheumatoid arthritis are low in a molecule known as Bim.
Bim is important because it's necessary for immune cells to self-destruct. Ordinarily, immune cells die after they attack an invader. But in people with RA, these cells continue living and begin attacking cartilage, bone, and joints.
To increase Bim levels in abnormal immune cells, Dr. Perlman created a Bim imitation molecule, which he called BH3 mimetic. The imitation molecule works by floating undetected toward the damaged immune cells (its ghost-like movements earned BH3 the nickname of Casper the Ghost).
Did the Imitation Molecule Work?
When the team injected the imitation molecule into mice with rheumatoid arthritis, the treatment halted the disease in 75% of the mice, according to Dr. Perlman.
The results of the study revealed that BH3 could prevent RA's development—and in mice that had advanced rheumatoid arthritis, the imitation molecule forced the disease into remission.
A Breakthrough in Treating RA?
The findings of this study point to a possible breakthrough in the way we treat RA. Current rheumatoid arthritis treatments may not be in effective in some patients, and these treatments are often accompanied by negative side effects. Dr. Perlman noted that the imitation Bim did not produce any toxicity, so it may not carry the associated health risks of many common rheumatoid arthritis therapies.
The next step in advancing this research, according to Dr. Perlman, is to develop the technology to effectively deliver the drug. Human research is also necessary to further the validity of these findings.
To learn more about this study, read this article.