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New fibroblast study offers insights in rheumatoid arthritis treatment

Published on 25 November 2016
New fibroblast study offers insights in rheumatoid arthritis treatment

British scientists have uncovered new insights into the key role of different types of fibroblast cells in the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

The Arthritis Research UK-funded study from the University of Birmingham has shed new light on the biological processes underpinning the disease, potentially opening the door for improved treatments to be developed.

How synovial fibroblasts drive the development of rheumatoid arthritis
Fibroblasts are a type of cell involved in the production of collagen and the structural materials that connect other cells in the body. This study focused on synovial fibroblasts, which make up part of the connective tissue around human joints.

It is known that in rheumatoid arthritis, these cells cause damage by invading and attacking the cartilage and bone around the joint; however, this research offered evidence that there may be two distinct types of synovial fibroblast, which was not previously known.

These two types were categorised by specific cell surface markers, PDPN and CD248, and it was shown that the part closest to the cartilage tended to contain the invasive PDPN-type fibroblasts that cause cartilage damage, while the part that was further away from the cartilage contained the non-invasive CD248 type.

Implications for new treatment strategies
This research could prove important in laying the foundation for new therapeutic strategies. Currently, the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis involves giving patients a combination of immunosuppressive drugs, which is known to carry the risk of a serious impact on their quality of life.

As such, this study's suggestion that targeting fibroblast cell processes could result in more effective and manageable treatments will be good news for patients.

Study leader Dr Adam Croft from the University of Birmingham said: "This study not only shows the existence of distinct subsets of synovial fibroblasts, but also suggests that these cells are able to self-organise into lining and sublining layers in the presence of cartilage.

"Combined with the difference in migration rates between the two types of cell, these results are extremely promising in terms of finding new therapeutic targets for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis."

Arthritis Research UK's view
Dr Natalie Carter, head of research liaison at Arthritis Research UK, said: "Rheumatoid arthritis is an incredibly painful condition that affects around 290,000 people in the UK. This study is significant as it advances our knowledge of what actually occurs within the joint of someone who lives with the condition, and could lead to new, more targeted treatments.

"Over the years, we have funded significant breakthroughs for rheumatoid arthritis such as anti-TNFs, which changed the treatment landscape. However, what works for one person may not work for another, and so there is an urgency for more effective treatments that will remove the need for a trial-and-error approach to treatment."

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Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.