Research Progress Related to Rheumatoid Arthritis
Over the last several decades, research has greatly increased our understanding of the immune system, genetics, and biology. This research is now showing results in several areas important to rheumatoid arthritis. Scientists are thinking about RA in exciting ways that were not possible years ago.
NIAMS-supported researchers have identified several genetic factors that may make some people more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, as well as factors that affect disease severity. Scientists have learned that dozens of genes determine whether a person develops rheumatoid arthritis and how severe the disease will become. Researchers are studying these findings to help identify new treatment approaches for the disease.
Researchers are also investigating the potential connection between health, disease, and the human microbiome, which are microorganisms that inhabit the human body, such as the intestines and the mouth. One study found that the presence of a specific type of gut bacteria correlated with rheumatoid arthritis in newly diagnosed, untreated people. Another study has found that bacteria in the mouth can contribute to the autoimmune RA process, indicating that good dental hygiene is important. More work is being done to understand how bacteria interacts with the immune system in the disease.
The Disease Process
NIAMS intramural researchers are studying the natural history of rheumatoid arthritis in children and adults to understand how the disease progresses and affects patient symptoms and functional status.
Investigators are also exploring whether patients with rheumatoid arthritis in remission while taking tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors can remain in remission after tapering the dose of these medications. Most studies so far suggest that taking them away completely leads to flares. However, researchers are studying and identifying what factors predict who will relapse when treatments are reduced.
Scientists are continuing to understand what happens at the molecular level in rheumatoid arthritis and are working to develop tests that could help diagnose RA earlier and identify patients who would benefit most from specific treatments.
Joint inflammation. NIAMS-funded researchers have determined that joint inflammation can continue in rheumatoid arthritis even after clinical symptoms have eased. This finding may help doctors determine when a patient is truly in remission and can safely stop treatment.
To date, there is still no cure for RA. Researchers continue to identify genes and molecules that contribute to the development and worsening of rheumatoid arthritis and thus are potential targets for new treatments. The path between identifying the molecule and developing a drug that targets it is long and difficult. Fortunately, several new medications for RA have emerged over the past decades that substantially reduce symptoms and damage in rheumatoid arthritis. However, over time, medications may stop working for some people, creating a need for new advanced therapies. Researchers continue to identify more candidate drugs, with hopes that these will have fewer side effects or will cure more patients.
National Institutes of Health Accelerating Medicines Partnership. NIAMS and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are leading the Accelerating Medicines Partnership® Autoimmune and Immune-Mediated Diseases (AMP® AIM) Program. AMP AIM is a unique public‒private partnership that aims to characterize the cellular interactions and biological pathways that cause inflammation, injury, abnormal function, and clinical disease in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.