Scientists predict arthritis 16 years before the fact

Scientists predict arthritis 16 years before the factScientists from Oxford University in England have come up with a way to predict the chance of a person developing rheumatoid arthritis up to 16 years before the disease actually manifests.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition characterized by swelling of the joints and accompanying pain, as some proteins are altered through citrullination, a process that takes place during inflammation. This causes antibodies to turn on themselves, and that was the takeoff point for the Oxford scientists, who had tested for antibodies that seek out citrullinated tenascin-C, or cTNC. This protein can be found in high levels in the joints of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

Based on the 2,000 or so patients involved in the study, testing for cTNC has the potential to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis about half of the time, including a few cases that aren’t detected by conventional tests. It also has an almost-perfect (98 percent) chance of ruling out the disease. All told, this blood test’s ability to detect RA while still early could result in early treatment, reducing the impact of the disease at the very least.

“What is particularly exciting is that when we looked at samples taken from people before their arthritis began, we could see these antibodies to cTNC up to 16 years before the disease occurred – on average the antibodies could be found seven years before the disease appeared,” said study author Kim Midwood, a professor at Oxford University’s Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology. ‘‘This early detection is key because early treatment is more effective.’’