Rheumatoid arthritis researchers at Dalhousie Medical School (DMS) in Halifax, Nova Scotia are exploring better treatment options and preventive measures for inflammatory complications, such as heart disease and arthritis. They hope to identify a link between rheumatoid arthritis and heart failure that will point the direction to new or improved methods of pain relief and risk reduction. The international scientific team, funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and The Arthritis Society, as well as other financial backers, will look into how the natural healing function of inflammation works to help some people recover from injuries while others develop chronic inflammatory diseases.
Led by Dalhousie microbiology and immunology professor, Dr. Jean Marshall, the study team intends to take the opposite tack of most research studies on inflammation and explore what “goes right” during healing. They want to clarify the proper role of inflammation in the healing process in order to look for applications for rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease sufferers. If they can recreate or correct the process when it goes wrong, they could help many patients struggling with chronic pain and cardiovascular disease, as Dr. Marshall explains that both are initiated by a bout with inflammation.
The study will consist of one group of patients who recently experienced a heart attack and are convalescing; and one group of patients who just recently received a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers want to study both groups side by side to find any commonalities among patients whose inflammation subsides naturally over time or because of early treatment and compare them to those whose inflammation lingers and exacerbates the damage already done. DMS and Capital Health cardiac surgeon Dr. Jean-Francois Légaré relates that the study will explore heart attack incidents in Nova Scotia from a clinical descriptive perspective. The goal is to gather a useful body of samples that will more clearly identify the common features in patients who heal well after a heart attack versus those who go on to develop heart failure, which will help doctors better determine the best treatment options for each patient.
Scientists and doctors will analyze joint fluids and blood samples from the rheumatoid arthritis and heart attack patients to get a clearer picture of what is happening in the immune systems of the different patients in response to anti-inflammatory and immunological therapies. They will also take into account each patient’s gender and health-related habits such as exercise levels and smoking that could impact the progression of the disease. Armed with this knowledge, doctors would be better equipped to determine which patients would gain the most advantage through early treatment options.
Dr. Marshall suggests that some possible treatments that could come from this exploration would modify usage instructions for current drugs; or they may develop new drugs that work better to promote the correct healing influences of the inflammation of heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Current therapies are not universally effective and sometimes produce side effects, according to DMS professor and rheumatologist Dr. John Hanly. Therefore, this research has the potential to produce more potent treatments that boost a patient’s quality of life and increase their earning potential due to increased productivity, as well as saving money in healthcare costs for heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis patients.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Image courtesy of Leides Moura – Flickr License