New Blood Test Can Predict Rheumatoid Arthritis before It Develops
Imagine if we could be treated for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in the early stage that leads to much higher rates of remission. There’s good news: that day is coming closer.
We first told you about the efforts of researchers to identify pre-clinical RA four years ago. Pre-clinical RA means before the disease becomes active. It was believed that this could lead to more optimal treatment, as well as eventually the ability to turn off RA before it starts.
In a recent study, Oxford University researchers created a blood test capable of predicting up to 16 years in advance if someone will develop rheumatoid arthritis.
Some background on RA
If you have a RA, you know that it is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints and other systems in the body, and that untreated, it can lead to joint damage and disability.
Getting to the more nitty-gritty level, it’s important to know that RA happens when during an inflamed state, certain proteins change in a process called citrullination. The thus modified proteins may then cause an immune response which can lead to your antibodies attacking your body. This connects us to the anti-CCP blood test, which is quite accurate in identifying when a person has RA.
One more fact is important to know. In adult years, a protein called tenascin-C appears especially in response to situations where there is infection or inflammation, and it has been found to be prevalent in the joints of people who have RA.
The Oxford study
The Oxford researchers wanted to know whether a citrullinated version of tenascin-C would be a target for the autoantibodies that attack the body when you have RA. Data from over 2000 people with the disease was used in the study.
The results showed that when you test for antibodies that target tenascin-C, it can identify RA at a pre-clinical stage up to 16 years before the disease develops in approximately 50 percent of the cases. In addition, the test had a very low rate of false positives, being capable of ruling out RA in 98 percent of cases.
My thoughts. One of the biggest barriers to more people responding to medication and going into remission is the time lag involved between appearance of symptoms and being diagnosed with RA. There is a window of approximately three months in the early stages of RA onset when the body responds best to treatment. Unfortunately, it can take months, sometimes years, before a diagnosis is made, at which time the individual may no longer respond optimally to the treatments available.
Being able to identify individuals who will develop RA, and thus monitor them over the years, will allow treatment to start immediately once the disease appears. This will enable many more people to be treated in a way that gives them a much higher chance of going into remission, with the impact of RA on their bodies and lives lessening significantly. Additionally, this would also greatly reduce the financial impact on the healthcare system, and the social cost to the individual, families, and society.
This test is huge step forward for RA, and an important building block in the process that will eventually lead to treatments that can turn off this disease before it starts. In other words, a cure.
Imagine that. We are now closer to seeing a cure.
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Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author ofYour Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.