PhotoDespite several treatment options, those suffering with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may still need to cope with painful and unexpected flare-ups. Researchers from the University of Virginia Health System recently discovered a new course of treatment for RA sufferers, though it wasn’t what they had set out to do.

In an effort to initially learn more about the causes behind the inflammation that occurs with arthritis, Dr. Sanja Arandjelovic found that when a specific gene -- ELMO1 -- was removed from mice, there was a noticeable difference in arthritis pain.

“This was a complete surprise to us initially,” said researcher Dr. Kodi Ravichandran. “I love those kinds of results, because they tell us that, first, we did not fully comprehend the scientific problem when we began exploring it, and, second, such unexpected results challenge us to think in a different way. Given that rheumatoid arthritis affects millions of people worldwide, we felt the need to understand this observation better.”

A way to help people

Following this initial finding, the researchers did more extensive work in this area to see how the ELMO1 gene can play an influential role in potentially treating RA.

Through their research, the scientists discovered just how the ELMO1 gene was successful in alleviating arthritis pain in the mice. Based on the gene’s functioning with specific white blood cells known as neutrophils, ELMO1 creates inflammation throughout the body.

“Normally [neutrophils] are good for us, against many bacterial infections,” Dr. Ravichandran said. “But also there are many times when they produce a lot of friendly fire that is quite damaging to the tissues -- when they hang around too long or there are too many neutrophils coming in -- in this case, infiltrating into the joints during arthritis.”

In continuing their tests on mice, the researchers found that blocking the ELMO1 gene was not only effective in helping reduce arthritis symptoms, but the mice were also not negatively affected in any other ways.

“ELMO1 partners with very specific set of proteins only in the neutrophils but not in other cell types we tested,” said Ravichandran. “So, presumably, you may be able to affect only a select cell type.”

With this new discovery, the researchers’ next step will be to work on developing a drug that would target the ELMO1 gene and effectively reduce RA symptoms.

Reducing pain, increasing comfort

Rheumatoid arthritis affects millions of people across the country. In the past few years, doctors have recorded an uptick in both shoulder and ankle replacement surgeries because of the condition.

Recently, researchers have found that patients’ diets could affect their RA symptoms, and eating fish was beneficial in reducing symptoms. According to the study, eating fish two times per week helped reduce symptoms, which the researchers credit to inherent anti-inflammatory qualities.

“Fish consumption has been noted to have many beneficial health effects, and our findings may give patients with rheumatoid arthritis a strong reason to increase fish consumption,” said lead researcher Sara Tedeschi.


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