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Breaking down arthritis:

Rady researchers receive Arthritis Society Canada funding

March 26, 2024 — 

In every joint in your body, tissue cushions and protects your bones, allowing them to move smoothly and painlessly.

Unless you have rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack its own tissue, destroying the synovial lining inside of joints.

That eventually leads to erosion of cartilage and bone, a painful and often debilitating condition that can make the simplest tasks – like opening a jar or buttoning a shirt – challenging if not impossible.

So far, science has a clear picture of what it looks like to live with rheumatoid arthritis. But researchers still don’t know what sparks the autoimmune disorder at the heart of it.

“Growing evidence indicates that metabolic dysfunction in lymphocytes may be an important factor,” said Dr. Aaron Marshall, professor and head of immunology at the Max Rady College of Medicine, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. “But this has not been studied in B cells from rheumatoid arthritis patients.”

With a recent grant of $100,000 ($50,000 per year for two years) from the Arthritis Society Canada, Marshall and his Rady Faculty coinvestigators Dr. Hani El-Gabalawy and Dr. Liam O’Neil now have the initial funds they need to launch a project that could help change the lives of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

Their project, “Understanding how sugar fuels autoimmune disease,” involves exploring how autoantibody-producing B cells promote the cycle of inflammation that leads to joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

“This is innovative research that could open a new area of research and identify new approaches to treat and prevent worsening of rheumatoid arthritis,” said Marshall.

The funds are from the Arthritis Society Canada through an Ignite Innovation Grant, a unique program that encourages people to take bold chances by testing out new ideas or theories, especially those that are considered risky, but have the potential for significant rewards if successful.

“We hope to identify specific metabolic inhibitor drugs that can shut down disease-promoting B cells,” said Marshall. “And as many new medicines are being developed to target metabolic enzymes for treatment of cancer, our results may spark collaborations with industry to develop or repurpose such medicines to benefit rheumatoid arthritis patients.”

The Ignite Innovation Grant is awarded at the start of a project, which means that if the research is deemed feasible, preliminary data is not necessary and researchers like Marshall and his team can hit the ground running.

“It was great to be able to move very quickly from a new idea to a funded project to actually test it!” said Marshall. “I hope this will launch a new research direction in my lab and in the arthritis research field.”

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