A revolutionary low-cost treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is being tested on humans for the first time at King’s College, London. In a two year trial, the culmination of 15 years work, the researchers will discover whether the infusion of a binding protein (BiP) can kick-start the body’s anti-inflammatory responses.
The theraputic fluid (BiP) is produced naturally by the body, but those who have had rheumatoid arthritis for a long period have insufficient quantities in their joints to reduce the pain and swelling caused by the disease. Each year sees 80,000 appointments for new patients.
Evidence suggests that after an intravenous dose of BiP, the patients immune system will be ‘reset’ to give a long lasting effect, providing the first preventative treatment for the disease as well as a huge improvement in the quality of life for existing sufferers.
At present there are nearly 10 million people in the UK who have incurable arthritis, each year 1,000 adults have to give up work because of the condition.
Rheumatoid form affects 400,000 people and is the second most common form of the disease and the most common autoimmune disease. It causes joint pain, swelling, stiffness, fatigue and disability. Each year sees 80,000 appointments for new patients.
“If BiP works as we expect then a single dose should be sufficient to put patients into remission for months,” says Professor Gabriel Panayi, professor emeritus of rheumatology at King’s College London.
The new treatment could come into clinical care ‘within a reasonable time frame’ if trials are successful said Professor Alan Silman, medical director for Arthritis Research UK, the body which has funded the research alongside support from several research hospitals.
At the same time, researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts are trialling another jab to tackle rheumatoid arthritis, a highly specific infusion of cells which would stop the body’s immune system from attacking the joints in the first place.
The body’s immune response can fail to ‘turn off’ after the body has repelled viral or bacterial invaders and can instead start to attack healthy cells.
A report on the treatment in the Journal of Clinical Investigation describes how an infusion of regulatory T-cells, a type of white blood cell, could play an important role in turning off the auto immune response when it is no longer needed.
The strategy could also hold promise for the treatment of other autoimmune disorders such as lupus, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and celiac disease, all diseases whose incidence is on the rise.
Though at present the treatment is a long way from clinical testing on humans, trials on mice show that the arthritis process was dramatically slowed when the treatment was combined with commonly prescribed current treatments.