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Genetic discovery could help fight against rheumatoid arthritis

Genetic discovery could help fight against rheumatoid arthritis
30th December 2013

Researchers from around the world have discovered 40 new areas of DNA which they feel increases a person's risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

The genetic study, which is the largest ever carried out, involved almost 30,000 people and was led by professor Robert Plenge from the Harvard Medical School.

It involved teams from medical centres and universities across the globe analysing patients and submitting their findings.

The DNA of people with arthritis was compared with patients who do not have the condition and 42 "faulty" areas were found. The researchers hope this discovery will pave the way for new drugs that can compensate against these faults.

This finding, he says, shows such discoveries could be used to design new drugs.

"What this offers in the future is an opportunity to use genetics to discover new medicines for complex diseases like rheumatoid arthritis to treat or even cure the disease," professor Plenge said.

Previously, it has been argued that there is little or no evidence to suggest that silencing weak genetic areas – known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) - relives symptoms in any way.

However, professor Plenge has already identified an established drug capable of treating the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

He feels that the research has "tremendous potential" to identify new drug targets for other complex conditions, such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and coronary heart disease.

SNPs that occur in blood cancer patients were also found in those with rheumatoid arthritis.

Jane Worthington, professor of chronic diseases genetic at the University of Manchester, believes this discovery suggests that existing treatments for cancer patients could prove effective for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

Speaking to BBC News, she said: "There are already therapies that have been designed in the cancer field that might open up new opportunities for retargeting drugs.

"It might allow us a straightforward way to add therapies we have to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis".