Boston researchers feel they may have discovered cause of rheumatoid arthritis

There is some very exciting research in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and Harvard Medical School believe they have found the cause of RA, a chronically debilitating and painful form of the disease which affects millions of people around the world. This new research shows that RA is an unusual type of immune system response.

Over the past decade, treatments for RA have become more targeted, reflecting the growing understanding of how the disease works. However, the exact causes of the swelling and inflammation, the hallmarks of the disease, as well as the destruction of the joints themselves had not been determined. It now appears that certain types of carbohydrate, known as glycosaminoglycans, or GAGs for short, can trigger an immune response within the body. GAGs are a major component in joint cartilage and joint fluid, connective tissue, and skin. When an immune response is triggered, inflammatory cells accumulate in arthritic joints and attach themselves to the GAGs. This accumulation is what causes the pain and inflammation in the affected joint(s).

The next step is to develop drugs that will stop the growth, expansion, or adhesion of immune cells that react to GAGs.

These findings are extremely encouraging. In less than a decade we could see new agents that would reverse or entirely prevent osteoarthritis and RA.

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