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Researchers uncover genetic causes of rheumatoid arthritis

December 27, 2013

While rheumatoid arthritis may be less common than other forms of the condition, the disease can certainly throw a wrench in the healthy aging plans of many seniors. However, a new study led by experts from Harvard Medical School may offer clues that could point scientists toward the potential for a cure, according to findings published in the journal Nature.

The research was focused on a group of more than 100,000 subjects. More specifically, scientists compared the DNA of participants living with RA to those free of the autoimmune disease. They found that there are at least 42 areas in the genes of RA patients that were "faulty." Scientists hope that by identifying the genetic root of the disease they will be more able to provide effective treatments, and perhaps, develop a cure. 

"This study sheds light on the fundamental genes, pathways and cell types that contribute to the onset of rheumatoid arthritis and provides evidence that the genetics of rheumatoid arthritis can provide important information for drug discovery," the authors wrote. "While there are previous anecdotal examples, our study provides a systematic approach by which human genetic data can be efficiently integrated with other biological information to derive biological insights and drug discovery."

Rheumatoid arthritis differs from osteoarthritis because rather than being caused by wear and tear on joints, it is an autoimmune disease. As a result, the linings of the joints become worn down. This causes painful swelling that typically impacts the smaller joints in the hands and feet. According to the Mayo Clinic, the best treatments currently available are natural routes like physical therapy and relaxation techniques.