Discovery Could Lead to Earlier RA Treatment

By Pat Anson, Editor

Scientists have discovered a new protein that regulates the severity of tissue damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis, a finding that could help identify RA patients earlier for more aggressive treatment.

The protein – known as C5orf30 – was found in DNA and biopsy samples from the joints of over 1,000 RA patients in the UK and Ireland.

"Our findings provide a genetic marker that could be used to identify those RA patients who require more aggressive treatments or personalized medicine," said Professor Gerry Wilson from the School of Medicine and Medical Science, University College Dublin, who led the research.

"They also point to the possibility that increasing the levels of C5orf30 in the joints might be a novel method of reducing tissue damage caused by RA".

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own defenses attack joint tissues, causing joint pain, inflammation and bone erosion. About 1.5 million Americans and 1% of adults worldwide suffer from RA.

"These exciting findings will prompt us to further explore the role of this highly conserved protein that we know so little about, and its significance in human health and disease,” said co-author Dr. Munitta Muthana from the Medical School at the University of Sheffield.

The study, funded by Arthritis Ireland and the University of Sheffield, is published in the journal PNAS.

It is estimated that 30% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis are unable to work within 10 years of onset of the disease. It affects more women than men, and often more severely. RA is most common between the ages of 40 and 70, but it can affect people of all ages, including children.

Although there is no cure for RA, new drugs are available to treat the disease and slow joint damage. Self-management of the condition by patients, including exercise, is also known to reduce pain and disability.

One of the biggest problems in treating RA is early diagnosis and treatment, which can reduce the amount of joint damage.  

"Treatments for arthritis have improved enormously over the last number of years. Thirty years ago, rheumatologists' waiting rooms were filled with people in wheelchairs. Today, that is no longer the case. The outlook for a person diagnosed with arthritis in 2015 is much brighter than it used to be,” said John Church, CEO of Arthritis Ireland.

British researchers recently said they were close to developing a blood test that could detect both RA and osteoarthritis in its earliest stages.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive joint disorder caused by painful inflammation of soft tissue, which leads to thinning of cartilage and joint damage in the knees, hips, fingers and spine.

Researchers at the University of Warwick’s Medical School identified a biomarker linked to both forms of arthritis. Diagnostic blood tests already exist for RA, but the newly identified biomarker could lead to one which can diagnose both RA and osteoarthritis.

“This discovery raises the potential of a blood test that can help diagnose both RA and OA several years before the onset of physical symptoms," said lead researcher Naila Rabbani, PhD.

Rabbani’s research focused on citrullinated proteins (CPs), a biomarker present in the blood of people with early stage rheumatoid arthritis. Patients with RA have antibodies to CPs and the Warwick researchers established for the first time that CPs levels also increase in early-stage OA.

That research is published online in Nature Scientific Reports.