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Consultant rheumatologist, Dr Andrei Calin
"It is interesting and encouraging - but that is all"
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Sunday, 29 October, 2000, 17:34 GMT
Scientists closer to arthritis 'cure'
arthritis sufferer
There are 750,000 arthritis sufferers in Britain
A new arthritis treatment developed by British scientists may lead to a cure for the crippling disease.

Initial trials of the drug treatment have exceeded all expectations with only two out of 20 patients showing no benefits.

A team from University College in London announced details of their treatment method at an international medical conference on Monday.

But talk of a "cure" has been met with caution by leading experts in the field who say the new treatment is only in its infancy and far more tests are required.

Genetic mistake

The treatment is aimed at neutralising antibodies which, due to a genetic mistake, attack the healthy joints in arthritis sufferers.

If our explanation is right, auto-immune diseases may be like bugs in a computer programme

Professor Jonathan Edwards
The University College scientists have created a drug that prevents the antibodies from harming healthy joints.

Professor Jonathan Edwards, who leads the team, says he is encouraged by the preliminary tests.

One of the patients has responded so well he has been able to resume gardening for the first time in 20 years.

Other targets

He compares the treatment to methods used to tackle a computer virus - the dangerous antibodies are like computer bugs.

arthritic hand
Painful joints leave arthritis patients in constant discomfort
"The solution is to turn everything off and start up afresh, which in this case means using drugs to eliminate the dangerous cells," said Professor Edwards.

There are 750,000 arthritis sufferers in Britain and until now doctors have concentrated their treatment on pain relief.

Encouragingly, the new treatment has so far shown no signs of causing any serious side effects among the patients who have taken the drug.

There are also signs that the treatment could have a role in helping people suffering from other auto-immune diseases like Crohn's Disease, lupus and even multiple sclerosis.

More funds

But Dr Anthony Clarke, medical director at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatoid Diseases, has issued a note of caution. He said the preliminary tests were impressive but inconclusive.

"For any new drug, you have to put it through a long testing process to make sure early promise proves to be correct and to make sure it's safe," he said.

The early results have been welcomed by the voluntary group Arthritis Care. Spokesman Richard Glutch said the government must be prepared to release funds to guarantee the research.

"Anything which puts pressure on health budgets is obviously problematic, but we would say look at the long term benefits if people could live more independently," he said.

The team will announce the results of its research on Monday at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in Philadelphia. The findings will be also published in the medical journal Rheumatology.

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