Rheumatoid arthritis is described as an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the body’s cells, particularly in the joints, mistaking them to be foreign elements. Our immune system is made up of specialized cells that travel through blood and tissue, fighting infection and preventing disease by differentiating between the body’s own healthy tissues and foreign elements. When there’s a lapse in this process causing the immune system to backfire at its own body’s cells, an autoimmune condition like RA results. Why this happens is still not clear and causes range from genetics to hormones to lifestyle practices like smoking. An inflammatory disease that starts with joint pain and fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis can over time culminate into deformity and loss of mobility.
For people who are diagnosed with the condition, it can be a debilitating and crippling experience- where everything right from changing clothes to brushing your teeth or working in the kitchen may seem like extremely difficult and unachievable tasks. Living with rheumatoid arthritis is nothing like ordinary living with patients in extreme conditions having to resort to everything from adaptive toilets to arthritis-friendly kitchen tools and more. Till date, there is no complete rheumatoid arthritis cure and most arthritis medications are palliative in nature-focusing on pain management and alleviation of symptoms rather than attacking the root cause.
In a first of its kind, University of Queensland has made a breakthrough in arthritis research by formulating a vaccine-like treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. The credit of discovery goes largely to Professor Ranjeny Thomas of the Diamantina Institute of the University of Queensland, who has been performing research in this area for 12 years. The phase one clinical trial remained very successful with the treatment being declared safe and effective in suppressing the immune response. This immunotherapy is directed specifically for individuals carrying high-risk rheumatoid arthritis genes and specific rheumatoid arthritis antibodies, called anti-CCP.
In the attempt, researchers created personalized treatment for each patient by extracting the dendritic cells- a particular type of immune cells- from the patient’s blood sample, ‘treating’ them with a foreign peptide and an immune system modulator and injecting them back into the patient. The modus operandi of this treatment is different in that rather than trying to eliminate the arthritis symptoms once they occur, this therapy focuses on teaching the patient’s immune system to ignore a naturally occurring peptide that is mistakenly identified as “foreign”, triggering the production of CCP antibodies that cause inflammation. It is more of an immune system retraining approach rather than a pain management one in arthritis care.
However, the method is still not ready for widespread use because it is an extremely costly and time consuming affair. Researchers have collaborated with a delivery technology, which is engaged in providing a more cost effective version of this treatment for use by patients and the vaccine is expected to hit markets in another decade. This is good news also because if the delivery does prove successful, it will also usher in similar treatments for other similar diseases like Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.