How small things matter: studying the role of microRNAs in rheumatoid arthritis

Disease - Rheumatoid arthritis

Lead applicant - Professor Leonie Taams

Organisation - King's College London

Type of grant - PhD Scholarship

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £156,726.56

Start date - 1 October 2015

Reference - 20960

Public Summary

What are the aims of this research?

Recent research shows that naturally occurring small molecules called microRNAs are important fine-tuners of gene activity in cells. The aim of this research is to find out whether microRNAs are important in the function and survival of specialised immune cells called monocytes in patients with RA.

Why is this research important?

Monocytes are important infection-fighting cells in the healthy immune system. However, they are present in abnormally high numbers in the joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. These cells produce large amounts of inflammatory chemicals which attract other immune cells into the joint, and they survive for a long time leading to persistent joint inflammation.

As monocytes are important in health and disease this work aims to find ways to reduce the inflammatory function of monocytes in patients with rheumatoid arthritis without reducing their ability to fight infection. By altering the levels of microRNAs produced by these monocytes and assessing how this affects their ability to cause inflammation, the activity of monocytes may be able to be regulated for therapy.

How will the findings benefit patients?

Drugs targeting specific microRNAs are already being trialled as a treatment in patients with cancer. This work will establish the importance of microRNAs in the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, which may lead to new treatments.