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Discovery Opens The Door To New RA Gene Therapies

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A research team from the University of Colorado School of Medicine has made a discovery that could lead to new gene therapies for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Led by Dr Nirmal Banda, the researchers have found that fat cells in the knee joints discharge a protein associated with arthritis.

The protein in question, pro-factor D, leads to the formation of factor D, which is a protein linked to arthritis, Dr Banda explains. For the past 14 years, he has been involved in studies aimed at determining the causes of RA. Dr Banda has been using mice as subjects and points out that they cannot develop RA without factor D.

Factor D is one of the elements in a complex system comprising more than 40 proteins. Their primary function is to assist the body in combating bacteria and other pathogens. Dr Banda´s previous studies established that the complement pathway that involves factor D increased susceptibility to RA in mice. The new study has shown that eliminating factor D instead of removing the whole complement system delivers the same result while keeping intact the ability of other system components to fight infection.

As Dr Banda notes, fat can normally be found around all body organs but scientists have so far been unaware of the fact that the protein responsible for arthritis is actually released by the fat. This applies not only in the case of knees but all joints, he points out. The discovery means there could be new medications developed to treat RA throughout the body. Dr Banda is already working on gene therapies to remove the protein in localised areas.