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Renewal grant supports genetic research into arthritis of the spine

An international team of scientists searching for genes that determine the susceptibility and severity of arthritis of the spine has been awarded a five-year renewal grant of $4.3 million from the National Institutes of Health.

The team led by John Reveille, M.D., of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, has linked 20-plus genes to this arthritic condition known as ankylosing spondylitis and hopes to use this information to enhance diagnosis and treatment.

Reveille, chairman of the Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunogenetics at the UTHealth Medical School and chief of rheumatology at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, said this information could lead to diagnostic tests to identify high-risk individuals and to new treatments that could potentially correct abnormal activities associated with disease-contributing genes.

"We hope to diagnose the disease earlier and more accurately and to improve outcomes," Reveille said.

The team is tracking the progress of people with this form of inflammatory arthritis. It began with a cohort of 400 people in 2006. Today the investigators are following more than 1,200 patients. The team is studying the genetic makeup of patients, as well as the impact of treatments on their condition.

Ankylosing spondylitis, sometimes mistaken for simple back pain and strain, affects 129 out of every 100,000 people in the United States and affects people of all ages and of both genders. Symptoms include curvature of the spine, weight loss, eye inflammation, fatigue and anemia.

While there is no cure, early diagnosis and proper management can minimize pain and reduce the risk of deformity, said Reveille, the Linda and Ronny Finger Foundation Distinguished Chair in Neuroimmunologic Disorders and the George S. Bruce, Jr. Professor in Arthritis and Other Rheumatic Diseases at the UTHealth Medical School.

Ankylosing spondylitis is often treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and exercise, and, in severe cases, anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF) agents, he said.

Contact: Robert Cahill
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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Renewal grant supports genetic research into arthritis of the spine
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