Rheumatoid Arthritis Research has Seen Major Advancements that Benefit Patients

Rheumatology as a subspecialty has come a long way since the first scientific journal was published more than 50 years ago. The first issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, printed in 1958, focused on the many unknowns in rheumatology research and only a handful of the articles addressed symptoms caused by the disease. Also unknown was the number of people impacted by rheumatic diseases and specialists trained to treat the conditions. As one of the first A & R authors stated, rheumatology was “wide open” for discovery.

Innovation Transforms Patient Care

In the early half of the twentieth century, a patient with joint pain, swelling and stiffness was typically prescribed aspirin and advised to rest. However, this remedy wasn’t enough to control painful inflammation and many patients during this period experienced physical deformity that twisted and crippled affected limbs.

Today, a person with a rheumatic disease under the care of a rheumatologist can expect control of inflammation, reduced disease activity, diminished pain and marked reduction in joint damage. They can also expect reduction in the heart disease risks that are part of many rheumatic diseases. Furthermore, rheumatologists have discovered that treating rheumatic diseases early and aggressively can lead to remission or the subsiding of all symptoms.

“Rheumatology research has seen major advancements that truly benefit patients,” says Lenore Buckley, MD, MPH; Simple Tasks campaign spokesperson and rheumatologist at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond, Virginia. “Patients who are diagnosed and start treatment early – ideally within the ‘window of opportunity’ — or 12 weeks after the onset of symptoms — can achieve clinical remission or no disease progression. In my practice, I have helped many patients return to normal activities and preserve independence after treatment.”

Rheumatic diseases, arthritis and other diseases of the muscles, joints and bones have a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of 52.5 million Americans. And, these diseases are the number one cause of disability in the United States. When left untreated, patients experience difficultly completing simple tasks such as eating, walking and brushing their teeth.

Rheumatology innovation during the past five decades has helped to identify, diagnose and manage symptoms and complications caused by these diseases. Some of the most significant innovations in treatment include:

  • New blood tests such as the CCP antibody to help better diagnose rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Ultrasound and MRI to view joint damage and swelling, site of the disease and response to therapy.
  • New medicine development including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, COX-2 inhibitors and nonbiologic and biologic disease modifying antirheumatic drugs to decrease and eliminate pain and inflammation.
  • The development of practice guidelines and classification criteria to help improve patient care, monitor tolerability to new and existing therapies and advance patient quality of life.

“Rheumatology research is essential to the wellbeing of our patients,” says Dr. Buckley. “If research doesn’t continue, disability and deformity can increase, resulting in unnecessary harm to millions of people.”

New Era of Research Can Lead to Cures

The American College of Rheumatology Research Foundation (Foundation) is leading a new era of rheumatology research that focuses on finding medical breakthroughs and cures.

In fact, the Foundation’s first disease targeted research campaign, launched in 2006, raised an unprecedented $30 million to support grants for innovative studies in rheumatoid arthritis. The national campaign provided funding to 27 institutions in 17 states across the United States. Projects supported focused on the causes, diagnosis and treatment of RA. The research funded through this campaign has been integral in the quest to find a cure.

The Foundation’s subsequent campaign, Journey to Cure, to address the growing demand for patient care today while advancing the course of research that will yield tomorrow’s cures. The $60 million, comprehensive campaign help recruits and train future rheumatologists, educators and researchers and fund targeted research towards finding a cure for inflammatory arthritis.

Keep Rheumatology Research Going

Today, nearly 5,000 rheumatologists are trained to treat 100 conditions that cause inflammation, joint damage and fatigue. Furthermore, members of the American College of Rheumatology are leading vital research that may lead to a cure.

Innovation and rheumatology research are important to more than 52.5 million people suffering from the devastating effects of rheumatic diseases. Keep rheumatology research going by supporting the Simple Tasks campaign. Advocacy groups have the ability to make a major impact on behalf of the rheumatology community by:

  • Educating constituents about the importance of rheumatology: Ensure your constituents understand that rheumatic diseases are devastating to those who suffer from them and to the health care system as a whole. Educate your constituents on the importance of rheumatology as the specialty devoted to treating these diseases
  • Promoting legislation that benefits patients with rheumatic diseases. You can also learn about the American College of Rheumatology’s top advocacy issues and schedule a time to discuss advocacy opportunities with the American College of Rheumatology.
  • Reading the American College of Rheumatology’s policy statement on Funding for Medical Research.