Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly begins to attack its own tissues, primarily the synovium, the membrane that lines the joints. As a result of this autoimmune response, fluid builds up in the joints, causing joint pain and systemic inflammation.
RA is a chronic disease in which most people experience intermittent periods of intense disease activity punctuated by periods of reduced symptoms or even remission. In the long term, RA can cause damage to cartilage, tendons, ligaments and bones which can lead to substantial loss of mobility.
An estimated 1.5 million people in the United States have RA—almost 1 percent of the nation’s adult population. There are nearly three times as many women as men with the disease. In women, RA most commonly begins between the ages of 30 and 60. In addition, as many as 300,000 children are diagnosed with a distinct but related form of inflammatory arthritis called juvenile arthritis.
BRI was an early leader in understanding the genetic component of RA. Current research into the disease includes:
BRI's clinical research in RA is investigating and comparing the efficacy of different drugs and combinations of drugs for the treatment of RA.
Scientists study the molecular and genetic profiles of people with early arthritis compared to healthy people using BRI's Rheumatic Disease Biorepository to better understand the disease mechanisms at onset and investigate possible environmental factors that could contribute to RA. The findings of this BRI research may lead to earlier diagnosis and possible prevention of RA in the future. Researchers recently used cutting-edge tetramer technology, developed at BRI, to find the T cells that drive RA. This tool now allows scientists to study how RA starts, how current therapies may impact the immune response directed to the joint and how to specifically target these cells therapeutically.
Researchers working to uncover the underlying cause of RA and develop more targeted therapies by using tetramers—a biomarker tool developed at BRI—to identify T cells that attack the joint tissues in RA.