BOSTON -- Researchers have reported the first clinical evidence that gene therapy reduces symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, an important milestone for this promising treatment which has endured a sometimes turbulent past. Described in the February issue of the journal Human Gene Therapy the findings stem from a study of two patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis conducted in Germany and led by an investigator at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).
Originally conceived as a means of treating genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and hemophilia, gene therapy involves implanting a normal gene to compensate for a defective gene in the patient. The first clinical trial to test gene therapy was launched in 1990 for the treatment of a rare, genetic immunodeficiency disease.
"This study helps extend gene therapy research to nongenetic, nonlethal diseases," explains principal investigator Christopher Evans, PhD, Director of the Center for Advanced Orthopaedic Studies at BIDMC. "Rheumatoid arthritis [RA] is an extremely painful condition affecting multiple joints throughout the body. Arthritis is a good target for this treatment because the joint is a closed space into which we can inject genes," adds Evans, who is also the Maurice Muller Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School.
A classic autoimmune disease, RA develops when, for unknown reasons, the body's immune system turns against itself, causing joints to become swollen and inflamed. If the disease is inadequately controlled, the tissues of the joint are eventually destroyed. Although anti-inflammatory agents and biologics can help to mitigate symptoms, there is no cure for the condition, estimated to affect more than 2 million individuals in the U.S. alone.
Evans has spent many years studying the molecules responsible for the breakdown of cartilage in patients with arthritis, identifying interleukin-1 as a good target.
|Contact: Bonnie Prescott|
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center