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Scientists from the Benaroya Research Institute (BRI) at Virginia Mason have identified the T-cells that promote rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by using state-of-the-art technology developed at the institute. The results of the study have been published online in the Arthritis & Rheumatology journal.

Through the use of BRI´s tetramer technology, the team was able to investigate whether individuals with RA had increased levels of T-cells or if the cells had unique characteristics, said Dr. Jane Buckner, lead researcher on the project and BRI associate director.

It is generally believed that RA is a T-cell mediated disease resulting from the immune system turning on its own tissues by mistake. The attack is primarily directed at the synovium – the membrane which lines joints. The resulting inflammation and joint pain are caused by fluid accumulation in the joints after the autoimmune response.

The BRI technology allowed the scientists to show that T-cells that are responsible for recognising proteins in joints were found in higher numbers in the blood of RA patients, Dr. Buckner said. Moreover, these T-cells possessed specific characteristics. The study showed that their number changed over time and as a result of the treatment provided to patients, Dr. Buckner added.

The unique technology provides insights into the development of RA, going as far back as the start of the disease. The effect of specific treatments in relation to immune responses directed to joints can now be analysed thanks to the solution.

RA is a disease that affects millions of people. Its treatment is associated with expensive drugs, which in turn carry the risk of side effects. Dr. Buckner believes that by providing treatment as early as possible and by solely targeting the cells responsible for the condition, scientists can achieve a higher success rate in fighting RA.