More Than 40 New Genetic Links To Rheumatoid Arthritis Discovered
December 26, 2013

More Than 40 New Genetic Links To Rheumatoid Arthritis Discovered

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

An international team of scientists has uncovered more than 40 new genes, pathways and cell types linked to an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, according to research published Wednesday in the online edition of the journal Nature.

The study, which according to BBC News science correspondent Pallab Ghosh, is the largest genetic study ever completed, involving nearly 30,000 rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients and more than 73,000 control subjects.

By comparing DNA from members of each group, the researchers found 42 new sites of genetic variation associated with the inflammatory condition, bringing the total number of confirmed risk variants to more than 100 genetic loci. The authors hope that their findings will provide insight into how new types of RA treatments could be developed.

“This study is the culmination of over a decade of work by an extraordinary group of collaborative scientists from around the world,” stated Dr. Peter K. Gregersen, head of the Robert S. Boas Center for Genomics and Human Genetics at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. “It provides us with a definitive list of the major common genetic variation involved in this disease, and points the way forward to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to this illness.”

“Our study provides a compelling link between human genetics in RA and approved therapies to treat RA,” added lead researcher Dr. Robert Plenge, director of Genetics and Genomics, Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy at Brigham and Women's Hospital. “This leads to an intriguing question: can our new genetic discoveries lead to new therapies to treat or cure RA? Further, can a similar approach be used to develop therapies for other complex diseases such as lupus, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease?”

However, as Ghosh pointed out, some experts believe that there is little to no evidence that identifying and addressing genetic flaws associated with complex conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (known as single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) can help treat the condition.

However, Dr. Plenge countered that he has discovered an established drug that treats RA symptoms by suppressing SNPs, helping to validate the approach.

“What this offers in the future is an opportunity to use genetics to discover new medicines for complex diseases like rheumatoid arthritis to treat or even cure the disease,” he told BBC News. “It offers tremendous potential. This approach could be used to identify drug targets for complex diseases, not just rheumatoid arthritis, but diabetes, Alzheimer's and coronary heart disease.”