New research holds out the hope of ending the misery of rheumatoid arthritis for many thousands of sufferers, it was revealed today. Scientists have discovered a three-month window after the onset of symptoms that offers the prospect of halting or even curing the crippling disease.
Scientists have discovered a three-month window after the onset of symptoms that offers the prospect of halting or even curing the crippling disease.
Within five years it may be possible to target patients early on with personalised drugs that allow them to lead normal, pain-free lives, say scientists.
The new approach should also prevent premature deaths. Typically, a patient with progressive RA dies 10 years earlier than someone who is free of the disease.
Speaking about the developments today Dr Karim Raza, from the University of Birmingham, said: "Recent trial data has shown that there is a three-month window after the start of symptoms and if you look at the molecules in the joints at that time they are different from what they are at a later stage.
"The data suggests that if you intervene within those three months you can very rapidly slow progression of the disease and in some cases halt it.
"There is also a suggestion that if you intervene aggressively you might in a small proportion of people actually switch off the disease.
"We hope as research continues to see that small proportion get larger. That's the Holy Grail. There is a precedent in the cancer literature -- the more you understand what's going on in a tumour, the more you're able to target treatments and the better the outcomes. We'd like the same to be true of rheumatoid arthritis."
Dr Raza was speaking today at the British Science Festival at Aston University, Birmingham.
RA is an auto-immune disease in which the body's own defence systems attack the joints, causing swelling and pain.
It is also believed to damage the inner walls of arteries, contributing to heart disease.
The condition is distinct from osteoarthritis, which is caused by "wear and tear" of the joints.