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Health Team

Genetics May be Key to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Posted September 9, 2007
Updated September 10, 2007

One in every 100 people will develop rheumatoid arthritis. The exact cause of the painful disease is unknown, but a gene discovery may put researchers closer to finding out.

At times, the pain in Doreen Frawley's joints makes every step hurt. She has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

"It changes everything you do. Everything you do," she said.

Other types of arthritis are caused by natural wear and tear, but rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder, which means the person's own immune system attacks healthy tissue.

"You're hurting because the immune system is invading your joints, releasing chemicals that cause inflammation, pain," said Dr. Peter Gregersen, of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.

No one knows why immune system can behave that way, but doctors have long suspected that it's a genetic problem. Now, research in the New England Journal of Medicine identifies three genes that can increase the risk of the disease.

Gregersen said one of the genes, STAT 4, is common.

"Roughly 22 percent of the population will carry STAT 4, maybe slightly more," he said.

The research found people with one copy of the STAT 4 gene have 30 percent increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. People with two copies have a 60 percent increased risk.

The discovery cannot help patients right now, but it does give researchers a new understanding of how rheumatoid arthritis works.

"I think it's highly likely, that this will lead to things within the next 5 to 10 years," Gregersen said.

"Hopefully, there'll be some way that they can work this out and cure it or maintain it better," Frawley said.

4 Comments

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  • Akitalover Sep 12, 2007

    My mother was diagnosed at 26 she is now 56. She has had 3 hip replacements and two knee replacements. She never complains and is in so much pain. She has taken all the drugs that Enemy of the people has listed and I even remember when she would get gold shots. What really works for her now is an IV drug she gets every 6 to 8 weeks called Remicade. I feel for all of you that suffer with this.

  • enemy of the people Sep 11, 2007

    excuse please, I meant to type: the cost of the wonder drugs is far too much to justify...

  • enemy of the people Sep 11, 2007

    Diagnosed in 2000. I have taken Relafen, Prednisone, Arava, Enbrel, and Methotrexate, none of which worked very well. I am now taking 4 to 6 Tylenol Arthritis Strength. The cost of the wonder drugs my RA Doctor had me taking was simply not enough to justify considering they really did not work much.

    I am learning to do what I should have done in 2000: live with the pain and understand there is nothing that will make it go away. The so-called wonder drugs developed recently do nothing but make the pharmaceutical industry richer.

  • DavidJonathan Sep 10, 2007

    It has taken a LONG time to get any good medicines for RA. I hope this time we are looking at a real breakthrough.