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Gut bacteria could lead to new treatment for inflammatory arthritis

Published on 21 January 2016

A researcher in gloves holding equipmentStudying the trillions of bacteria and other microbes that share our body space could lead to a preventative treatment for immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

It's long been suggested that the bacteria which live in our gut, mouth and elsewhere on our bodies may affect our immune system and lead to the development of certain diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis. But exactly how changes to these bacteria, collectively called the “microbiome”, cause disease remains to be discovered.

The research, which we awarded £2 million to, aims to unlock the link between gut bacteria and the development of immune diseases. This programme award brings together an international team of researchers, led by the University of Oxford, with partners from Birmingham and University College London, as well as collaborators in the US at Harvard University, New York University and Mount Sinai Hospital, New York.

It should shed light on the role of the gut microbiome in early arthritis, established rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and childhood arthritis, and how this type of disease develops, progresses and responds to therapy.

Over 400,000 people in the UK live with the pain of rheumatoid arthritis alone. While there's currently no cure for this disabling condition, undertaking research into its treatment and prevention is a key focus for the charity."It's a key first step in unlocking the potential of the microbiome to yield therapies for inflammatory diseases."Professor Fiona Powrie

Professor Fiona Powrie from the University of Oxford, who's leading this research, said: “This funding will allow our consortium to push forward with its goal of bridging the gap between microbiome description and function. It's a key first step in unlocking the potential of the microbiome to yield therapies for inflammatory diseases.

The potential benefit from improving our understanding of the relationship between the microbiome and arthritis is huge. This research could lead to the development of entirely new treatments or preventative medicines which could be as simple as changing the way you eat.

Dr Stephen Simpson, our director of research and programmes, said: “We hope that this award will help us understand the relationship between the bacteria in our gut and human health, specifically arthritis.

"This knowledge is absolutely essential if we're to develop new treatments that could one day revolutionise the way we prevent and treat painful and debilitating conditions like inflammatory arthritis.”

Along with five smaller microbiome pathfinder awards which were announced last year, this award represents a substantial investment in this area. It should lead to a step-change in our understanding of the complex relationship between the microbiome and arthritis, and could lead to major changes to the way we treat and prevent this condition in the future.

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A gut feeling about arthritis

Bacteria under the microscope

It’s long been suggested that the bacteria which live in our body may influence the development of inflammatory arthritis. Now our researchers are investigating it.

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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.