Scientists have discovered a possible new method of treating rheumatoid arthritis, using a drug that ‘blindfolds’ white blood cells.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning that your immune system attacks the cells that line your joints making them swollen, stiff and painful. Over time this can damage the joint, cartilage and nearby bone. White blood cells called T-cells are key players in this process.
The study, funded by the charity Arthritis Research UK, looked at the human-like immune system of a genetically engineered mouse with arthritis.
Researchers, writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that a compound called PS372424 blocked the ability of activated T-cells to invade joints. Only the specific T-cells implicated in rheumatoid arthritis are affected.
Study leader Dr Graeme O'Boyle, from the University of Newcastle, said; "Imagine that the damaged joint is covered in flags which are signalling to the white blood cells.
“Traditional treatments have involved pulling down the flags one by one but what we have done is use an agent which in effect 'blindfolds' the white blood cells."
"Therefore, they don't know which way to travel and so won't add to the damage."
Rheumatoid arthritis affects around 580,000 people in England and Wales. It is three times more common in women than in men. Whilst it is more common from the age of 40, it can affect people of any age, and gets worse with age.
The next stage for scientists is to improve the drug-like properties of PS372424 to prepare it for clinical trials. Further research could lead to an effective and inexpensive way of treating the condition.
Since arthritis is considered a chronic condition, it is unlikely that it will be covered by private medical insurance. However, if a cure is found for the condition it could be covered on your policy in the future, so compare health insurance online now.
Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said: “This research is very exciting, as although it is in its early stages, if it can be transferred to humans it could shut down the inflammation that causes rheumatoid arthritis.”
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