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Cure for arthritis may be at hand


"Auto-immune diseases may be like bugs in a computer programme. The solution is to turn everything off and start up afresh" - Professor Jonathan Edwards


British scientists may have discovered a cure for the crippling disease arthritis, it has emerged.

A research team from University College, London, has identified drugs that improve the debilitating condition after a single treatment.

They are to announce the breakthrough, which would help more than 750,000 sufferers in the UK alone, at an international scientific conference on Monday.

The cure, the Sunday Telegraph reports, focuses on the way the body's defences mistakenly attack healthy joints when rheumatoid arthritis strikes.

Normally, a type of white blood cell, known as B-cells, fights viruses and bacteria by making antibodies.

But in arthritis sufferers, a genetic mistake creates rogue antibodies that go accidentally for healthy tissue, and to make copies of themselves.

Professor Jonathan Edwards, the scientist leading the team, said the new treatment involved drugs that seek out and destroy B-cells.

After a single dose to wipe out all the patient's B-cells the body responds by making new ones - and the chances of them making the same mistake is tiny.

Results with the 20 patients treated so far have been so successful that an international trial is now under way.

Five have only residual pain from the damage already caused and gone back to normal lives, with one taking up gardening for the first time in 20 years. Only two have had no benefit at all.

"If our explanation is right, auto-immune diseases may be like bugs in a computer programme," Prof Edwards told the Sunday Telegraph.

"If you happen to press certain keys in a particular order it crashes.

"The solution is to turn everything off and start up afresh - which in this case means using drugs to eliminate all the B-cells."

Until now, doctors have only been able to offer limited pain relief to arthritis sufferers, but the new treatment appears to be safe and effective with virtually no side effects, he added.

The same technique may also offer hope to patients with other auto-immune diseases, such as Crohn's disease, lupus and even multiple sclerosis.

The findings are about to be published in the leading journal Rheumatology and unveiled at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

Related links
Arthritis Foundation
Latest arthritis news
American College of Rheumatology

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