A POWERFUL new jab that can halt and even prevent arthritis is a step closer after a breakthrough by scientists.
They have created a potent “infusion” using cells that regulate the body’s immune system.
This shuts down the “cascade of inflammation” that damages joints and tissues. The development will bring hope to hundreds of thousands of Britons left in daily agony by rheumatoid arthritis.
Even weeks after the jab was administered, tests showed the arthritis process was dramatically slowed when the infusion was combined with a low dose of methotrexate, the current “gold standard” treatment.
A spokeswoman for Arthritis Research UK said: “This type of treatment would be of particular interest as it prevents the causes of disease development as opposed to merely masking the symptoms.”
At present there is no cure for the crippling disease, although a number of treatments can help slow its progress. These can have unpleasant and potentially dangerous side-effects, however, and their aim is often solely to minimise joint damage.
Finding a treatment which actually stops the disease in its tracks would be a revolutionary breakthrough.
Experts at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, say their discovery holds the promise of just such a breakthrough for patients with arthritis and other autoimmune disorders.
Dr Harvey Cantor said: “We found we could almost completely inhibit the disease in this setting.”
The scientists at Dana-Farber used infusions of regulatory T cells to stop the body’s immune system attacking joints. Their trials on mice are reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. T cells are a type of white blood cell that can recognise and attack foreign invaders, allowing the body to fight disease.
The T regulatory cells, or Tregs, play an important role in turning off an immune response when it is no longer needed, such as after the body has repelled viral or bacterial invaders.
In autoimmune disorders, parts of the immune system attack healthy cells.
Nearly 10 million people in Britain are blighted by incurable arthritis. Osteoarthritis affects at least 8.5 million. Rheumatoid arthritis, where the immune system attacks the joints, affects about 700,000.
Inflammation affects many tissues, frequently causing painful and deformed fingers and hands, swelling, stiffness, fatigue and disability.
Ailsa Bosworth, chief executive of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, said: “There is a wealth of fantastic research going on in the field of rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmunity and this is another example of this.
“We very much welcome these new findings and hope that this important and exciting work will translate ultimately into an effective treatment.
“In spite of great advances in treating rheumatoid arthritis in recent years, there remains major unmet need and so research such as this is vital.”
Arthritis Research UK said: “The data from laboratory experiments is promising. However, this research is still in the early stages and has not yet been developed into a treatment that can be tested in clinical trials.”