Australian Researchers Develop a Breakthrough RA Treatment

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia recently announced that they have developed a breakthrough new treatment option for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an autoimmune disease in which the patient’s immune system, which is supposed to protect the body against foreign invaders, instead mistakenly attacks the patient’s own joints and tissues, leading to pain and inflammation. The initial results of this new potential treatment are quite significant, because they represent a new way of thinking about how to treat autoimmune diseases like RA. This type of technique may even hold future promise for other autoimmune diseases, like type 1 diabetes or multiple sclerosis.

The new treatment, which researchers have been working on since 2003, is the world’s first vaccine-style therapeutic approach to treating RA. While most existing RA treatments focus on reducing symptoms of inflammation and slowing the progression of the disease, this new treatment is targeted at actually changing the underlying cause of the most common type of RA, called CCP-positive. In this type of RA, a patient’s immune system incorrectly identifies a particular naturally occurring peptide as “foreign” and attacks it, resulting in the production of CCP antibodies and causing inflammation. The new therapy works by attempting to “re-educate” the patient’s immune system, essentially teaching the immune system to ignore the peptide it used to consider foreign.

The new treatment has already gone through the first phase of human trials. In the first phase of the trial, researchers took a sample of each patients’ blood, added an anti-inflammatory and the peptide, and then re-injected the sample back into the patient. For this phase of the testing a personalized immunotherapy was prepared for each patient individually. The results, published in Science Translational Medicine on June 4, 2015, demonstrate that the new treatment is safe and that inflammation in patients was noticeably reduced.

Unfortunately, the new technique is not ideal for widespread treatment because it is both time consuming and extremely costly to prepare personalized immunotherapies for each individual patient. Phase two of the research, which is expected to start next year, will be a new human trial testing a ready-made version of the vaccine that will be more practical and cost-effective. If everything goes well with the second trial, a viable vaccine could be available to treat some forms of rheumatoid arthritis within the next 10 years, with the potential to develop similar vaccines for other autoimmune conditions in the future.

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