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Researchers make potential breakthrough in rheumatoid arthritis treatment

January 25, 2013

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects an estimated 2 million Americans, many of them older adults. The painful chronic condition can make it difficult for seniors to enjoy independent living, yet its mechanisms remain largely a mystery to health experts. However, new research suggests that a certain gene could activate cells that lead to the tissue and joint damage typical of the condition. 

The study, which was conducted at the University of Michigan, focused largely on human leukocyte antigens, which are an inherited group of genes associated with autoimmune diseases like RA. Using mice, researchers analyzed how a certain subset of these genes acted and noticed that it activated a group of cells that caused inflammation and destroyed bones. Study authors say that their findings could help develop new treatment for adults suffering from RA and help down the path toward a healthy lifestyle for seniors

"We believe this could be a significant breakthrough in our understanding of why certain genes are associated with higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases - a link that has been a mystery in the field for decades," said lead author Joseph Holoshitz.

While it might be some time until researchers are able to develop an effective treatment from the findings, there are some other steps adults living with RA can take to reduce the pain caused by the disease. Along with medications, certain lifestyle choices can make a big difference, according to the Mayo Clinic. For instance, gentle exercises, such as swimming and water aerobics, can not only help strengthen the muscles around joints but also reduce fatigue and other side effects caused by RA, all while being easy on tender bones and joints.