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Scientists discover new genes linked to rheumatoid arthritis

THE world could be on the verge of a discovery that could provide the necessary avenues for understanding the widely variable nature of rheumatoid arthritis and open the door for new and improved treatment approach for the disorder.

This medical feat at the University of Michigan Medical School was made by a rheumatologist in attempt to comprehend how identical twins can be so different when it comes to the development of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis – a newfound understanding and appreciation that stems from recent findings of three over-expressed genes in rheumatoid arthritis that were not previously linked with the ailment.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful, chronic disease that affects about two-million Nigerians. It’s also genetic — but most of the time, only one twin in a pair will inherit it.

Based on the study, scientists are now beginning to understand how genetically identical twins can still be different when it comes to the development of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

They found three new genes that were overactive in the twin with rheumatoid arthritis compared to the one without the disease. The discovery could open the door to understanding the widely variable nature of the disease and provide avenues for new treatments.

The advantage of studying twins is that they start out with the same genetic information, so differences in the way the genes act can be attributed to differences in the person’s surroundings. Those differences could cause a random genetic mutation, or affect how DNA is packaged. Only 15 per cent of identical twins will both develop as rheumatoid arthritis.

To find out why, the scientists compared gene expression patterns of 11 pairs of monozygotic twins who shared the same egg and were genetically identical, but only one of them had rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to the three new overexpressed genes, the researchers also found that non-genetic factors influenced the action of these genes, and that if only one twin in the family had rheumatoid arthritis, the actions of the genes were different than if neither twin had rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that damages joints, causing pain, loss of movement, and bone deformities. In the early stages, the tissue in the joint begins to grow and divide, much like a benign tumour. The growing mass gives off proteins that disintegrate tissue.

Although there are currently some rheumatoid arthritis treatments available, they are for non-specific processes that do not address the root cause of rheumatoid arthritis, and they don’t work for all patients. The new study results help identify new treatment targets that could lead to better drugs that are more effective against the disease, with fewer side effects.


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