Scientists Discover New T-Cell Subtype That Could Lead To Better RA Treatments
With the New Year we always hope to see new beginnings – so I was excited to learn about a brand new study that was just published in the journal Nature on February 1, 2017. A research team led by scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston has made an interesting new discovery that might impact the future of rheumatoid arthritis treatments.
We’ve all heard about the olden days of RA treatments – from huge doses of aspirin to literally injecting gold into patient’s bodies. These somewhat primitive treatments were improved by the development of more effective disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – such as Plaquenil, Arava, and Methotrexate – which act on the immune system to slow the progression of RA.
But it was the development of biologics that really revolutionized the treatment of RA. Biologics are medications derived from living organism that work by targeting specific parts of the immune system. For example, TNF inhibitors (such as Enbrel, Humira, Remicade, Cimzia, and Simponi) specifically block tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a chemical produced by the immune system that causes inflammation in the body. However, while biologics do target specific components of the immune system, they still function in a relatively non-specific, global way. The results of this new study help illustrate a path towards treatments that could be much more precise and focused only on the most relevant immune cells.
When it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, there is significant evidence implicating the role of T-cells, which are a type of white blood cell. However, up until this point, it hasn’t been clear which T-cell subtypes help orchestrate the damaging immune responses that underlie RA. By using high-tech tools, the researchers in this new study honed in on a unique population of T-cells that are highly prevalent in the joints of patients with RA. This specific subtype not only represents roughly one-quarter of the helper T-cells found in RA patients’ joints, but the subtype also displays some unusual biological features.
This subtype of T-cells is programmed to infiltrate parts of the body that are inflamed, where they stimulate B-cells to produce antibodies. Antibodies are specialized proteins that are meant to recognize foreign substances and help the immune system fight them, but instead attack healthy tissues in individuals with RA. This study represents the first detailed description of this specific subtype of T-cells. Identifying this subtype may help researchers understand the signals that coax these cells to develop – and whether targeting these unique T-cells may hold promise as an RA treatment.
Whether or not the discovery of this T-cell subtype leads to a new treatment, one thing is for sure: the more we can understand about how RA (and other autoimmune diseases) work, the better chance we have of finding treatments and cures!
When was your last flare?