Reporter 439, 27 September 1999

Arthritis breakthrough brings patients faster treatment

Thousands of arthritis sufferers could receive treatment at a far earlier stage thanks to a new method of diagnosing their condition discovered by University researchers.

Rheumatoid arthritis is presently very difficult to identify early, but the new technique allows it to be picked up in seven out of ten cases. The researchers believe their discovery could even give prior warning of impending cancers.

The research team in rheumatology and rehabilitation discovered that the shape and size of blood vessels in the lining of tissue inflamed with rheumatoid artritis was different to that found in tissue affected by other forms of the condition.

The blood vessels in arthritic tissue are more numerous and have tell-tale regular branching which can be easily recognised, said project leader Dr Douglas Veale. The pattern of the blood vessels also allows distinct forms of the condition to be diagnosed, he added. This has important implications for the successful treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, which affects the small joints such as the hands and fingers in one in a hundred people.

The new diagnosis can be performed with simple surgery under local anaesthetic and Dr Veale said he expected the technique would soon become widely used across the world. Examination of the blood vessels in different tissue could also help to identify other conditions, including diabetes and cancer.

The team is currently studying the factors influencing the pattern of the blood vessels as they believe similar factors may be present in new tumours. They hope this may help to identify cells likely to turn cancerous. The team's research was published in the Arthritis and Rheumatism journal.

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