Arthritis research at UCL
3 June 2004
A new study at UCL could lead to the development of long-term relief from rheumatoid arthritis.
Over 350,000 people suffer from rheumatoid arthritis in the UK, which can start from as early as age 15. Close to a billion B-cells, or lymphocytes, are created in the body's immune system each day, fighting off infections. Although each B-cell creates different antibodies, sometimes the B-cells will grow and produce damaging effects. This is known as autoimmunity, which causes rheumatoid arthritis.
In this study, 161 patients received a short course of B-cell targeted therapy with the drug Rituximab. 43% reported that arthritic symptoms such as joint pain, swelling and stiffness were reduced by more than half over a six month period, compared with 13% in the control group who took conventional drugs only.
Professor Edwards said: "This study provides clear evidence of the importance of B-cells in rheumatoid arthritis, heralding a major shift in our understanding of the disease. The cycle underlying autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis may be similar to a bug in a computer that makes it crash. B-cell targeted therapy is like rebooting the computer of your immune system to sidestep the bug."
Ongoing research includes the development of B-cell therapy to reduce the risk of infection, which is a common problem related to this kind of treatment as well as the streamlining of the therapy, so that it eliminates only disease-related B-cells rather than all the B-cells, which occurs with current B-cell therapy.
Professor Edwards said: "People with arthritis desperately want to be free of painful, sleepless nights and stiffness during the day. They also want to be free from the burden of long-term drug treatment. This is what we are striving for."
Image: Rheumatoid arthritis as seen by Van Gogh 100 years ago.
To find out more about Professor Edwards, use the link below.