Scientists Cure Rheumatoid Arthritis in Mice
Anyone who suffers with rheumatoid arthritis may be interested to hear that scientists have now been able to cure this often debilitating disease in mice. The next step will be to test how the discovery in people who have the disease.
A team of researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (aka ETH Zurich) developed a treatment approach that consists of an antibody combined with interleukin 4 (IL-4). IL-4 is a protein that plays a significant role in the immune system, as it helps develop mast cells, activated B cells, and resting T cells, which are key to immune function.
Previous research has shown that IL-4 offers protection against bone and cartilage damage in mice with rheumatoid arthritis. Now scientists have taken this knowledge to new heights and developed an injectable drug that cures the disease in these animals.
New rheumatoid arthritis study
The unique combination developed by the researchers allows the drug to target the swollen joints that are the hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis. The ability to focus treatment helps reduce the risk of side effects.
The afflicted mice were treated in two ways: with the new combination drug and along with dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug that is already prescribed to treat the disease. Dexamethasone is a synthetic corticosteroid that helps block inflammation, but it also suppresses the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infection.
The researchers found that while their new drug and dexamethasone individually slowed progression of rheumatoid arthritis when either substance was administered to the mice, the combination of the two drugs caused complete resolution of the disease. In fact:
- All inflammation of the joints (toes and paws) disappeared
- Tests showed that concentrations of markers of rheumatoid arthritis in the bloodstream returned to normal as well
These findings led the study’s lead author, pharmacist Teresa Hemmerle, to remark that “In our mouse model, this combined treatment creates a long-term cure.”
Other treatments for rheumatoid arthritis
In addition to dexamethasone, people with rheumatoid arthritis have numerous other treatment options from which to choose. One class of drugs typically prescribed are disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
The DMARDs typically prescribed include hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), leflunomide (Arava), cyclosporine (Neoral), sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), methotrexate (Rheumatrex), azathioprine (Imuran), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), and biologics (e.g., Enbrel, Humira, and others). These drugs can be taken along with dexamethasone or other steroid drugs for a limited amount of time.
Other treatment options include natural approaches, which are typically associated with minimal to no side effects, unlike medications. Some options include the following:
- Acupuncture, which can help relieve the chronic pain associated with the disease
- Curcumin, a primary active ingredient in the spice turmeric that can help with pain and inflammation
- Diet, with emphasis on eating noninflammatory foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while avoiding or significantly reducing meats and dairy
- Grape seed extract, which has been shown to help relieve symptoms and inhibit the process by which bone is destroyed
- Omega-3 fatty acids, which assist with function and inflammation
- Tai chi, a gentle form of exercise that also assists in improving balance, coordination, and grip
A cure for rheumatoid arthritis may be available in the future. For now, however, researchers are planning to set up clinical trials that will involve people with rheumatoid arthritis to determine the safety and effectiveness of the new drug. Stay tuned for more and keep your fingers crossed!
Hemmerle T et al. Antibody-based delivery of IL4 to the neovasculature cures mice with arthritis. PNAS, online publication 4 August 2014