Identifying new ways to treat rheumatoid arthritis

Disease - Rheumatoid arthritis

Lead applicant - Professor Kim Midwood

Organisation - Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology

Type of grant - Senior Research Fellowship

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £807,821

Start date - 1 October 2012

Reference - 20003

Public Summary

What are the aims of this research?

Damage to the joints in rheumatoid arthritis causes the production of a specialized network of molecules within the joint called a matrix. This matrix makes disease worse by supporting immune cells and stimulating inflammation, leading to progressive joint destruction. Inhibiting matrix activity improves disease in human and animal models of rheumatoid arthritis. This research project will investigate how the matrix drives inflammation and test the benefit of targeting the matrix in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

Why is this research important?

Inflammation is our first response to infection and injury. Immune cells flood the affected area and release signalling molecules called cytokines which fight infection and degrade dead or damaged tissue. Normally, immune cell activity is tightly controlled; they do not survive after infection or injury is resolved and cytokines are no longer made. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs as a result of uncontrolled joint inflammation, but it is not currently known how and why this inflammation is triggered. Current treatments inhibit inflammation by blocking the activity of cytokines or cells that make cytokines. However, up to 40% of patients do not respond to these drugs and in these individuals that do respond repeated medication is required, making treatment extremely expensive. Suppressing the immune response in this way can also mean that patients are unable to fight infection. The discovery of a specialized matrix in rheumatoid arthritis joints that supports immune cells and causes them to continually make excessive amounts of cytokines provides a number of new approaches to treating rheumatoid arthritis that may be better and safer than current therapies.

How will the findings benefit patients?

This project will provide new information about how the matrix drives persistent joint inflammation and significantly advance our understanding of how rheumatoid arthritis develops and progresses. The outcome of this research will therefore have the potential to develop new and improved treatments for people with arthritis.