Reporter 430, 1 February 1999

Arthritis checked by doubled drugs

University researchers believe they may hold the key to halting the progress of rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatologists Dr John Isaacs and Dr Ann Morgan have been experimenting with a two-pronged treatment that has dramatically reduced the condition in trials.

In rheumatoid arthritis the body's immune system attacks and swells the patient's own joints. Turning off T-cells, white blood cells often assumed to control the immune system, can treat the disease in mice. However, this technique has only limited success with people.

Dr Isaacs and Dr Morgan believe this is because joint inflamation reduces the effect of the T-cell treatment, and their combination approach includes a second drug to minimise the swelling.

"There's such a lot of inflammation that we may be asking too much of the T-cell treatment," said Dr Morgan. "It should have a stronger effect when given in this way because it is no longer battling against the inflammation."

Patients given a combination of both drugs for a week had their symptoms dramatically reduced with no side effects. Longer trials gave similarly encouraging results: one patient who had not responded to previous treatments went over six months without requiring further treatment.

The team has recently received funding from the Medical Research Council, enabling it to carry on with its research.

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