Scientists Search For Rheumatoid Arthritis Genes
Are some people more prone to developing rheumatoid arthritis? Researchers are mapping the genes that will answer that question.
Genetic Clues to Rheumatoid Arthritis continued...
His team also found that variants of two other genes -- TRAF1 and C5 --
might also be associated with an increased risk for RA. And in 2004, the same
team reported that a gene called PTPN2 confers a twofold risk for RA and a
number of other autoimmune diseases.
In the future, genetic research may allow doctors to better pinpoint those
at higher risk of developing complications from autoimmune diseases. Looking
into his crystal ball, Gregersen says that “we will find that some of the genes
predispose people to particular disease manifestations.” This information will
help physicians better predict the course of a disease and improve
Toward Earlier Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis
But that’s not all. This research will allow doctors to detect diseases
ahead of time -- before symptoms begin. “For RA, there are autoantibodies that
appear years before the development of any symptoms. And we know that if you
have those antibodies, you are at increased risk of developing RA. But this is
still not 100% predictive,” Gregersen says.
Looking at a person’s genetic blueprint can help eliminate some of the
question marks. “This information can help us decide who we should treat
earlier,” he says.
“We could develop some type of algorithm that says this person has a high
probability of developing RA and we should treat them before they develop
symptoms.” That’s just how John H. Klippel, MD, the president and CEO of the
Arthritis Foundation, based in Atlanta, envisions it. “A combination of a known
family history of RA, a genetic profile, and a blood marker could be used to
closely monitor people, and at some point we could decide to intervene before
symptoms ever occur,” he says.
Genetics will also help doctors decide which RA drugs to use. A genetic
analysis could eliminate the guesswork.
“I think that genetics is clearly paving the way toward personalized
medicine for autoimmune disorders,” Gregersen says. He predicts the first use
of his genetic research in RA will be in determining which drugs work best in
But, he adds, it certainly won’t be the last application -- encouraging news
for the millions who have RA or may develop it in the future.