Will COVID Research Help Cure Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis: immunologists are researching how to cure this chronic condition
Will the COVID-19 Pandemic help shed some light on how to, perhaps, treat the world’s most common autoimmune condition? The usage of medications against Rheumatoid Arthritis to treat COVID-19 patients might actually help researchers to develop ways that will not only help treat symptoms but actually cure the disease.
The year 2020 has turned us all into scientists, and whether we wanted it or not, we all became experts in how the human immune system functions.
While before COVID, most people never heard about T-cells and B-cells, not to mention which role they play within our immune system, today, nearly everyone knows their role in defending our bodies from external pathogens (just like the COVID virus).
We also witnessed what happens when our immune system goes spinning out of control while trying to get rid of the virus, and, while doing so, ends up causing damage to other organs. One after the other. This life-threatening condition is called a cytokines storm.
Rheumatoid arthritis medications for curing cytokines storm
So far, the most effective treatment for such an extreme condition is by using medications that are meant to treat various autoimmune conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Diabetes type 1, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The common factor for all these autoimmune conditions is that our immune system goes out of balance, and mistakenly thinks that the body is being attacked by pathogenic factors.
As a result, our immune system starts targeting our own bodies and generates antibodies that attack healthy tissues. Rheumatoid Arthritis is the most common autoimmune condition, and it happens when the immune system attacks the Synovial membrane – a padding tissue that is found in the gap between both sides of the joint.
As a result, inflammation is developed and causes swelling in the Synovial membrane, damaging the proper functioning of the membrane to the extent it can no longer continue and support the joint structure. Furthermore, various other molecules that are formed as a part of the inflammatory process, damage bones and tissues around the cartilage and tendons.
Rheumatoid arthritis progression and outcome
People with Rheumatoid Arthritis experience joint pain, redness, tenderness, and joint stiffens around an affected joint. Rheumatoid Arthritis affects 1% of the population, with twice or three times as likely to affect women over men.
Usually, the disease progression is quite rapid, and it appears at earlier ages in comparison to osteoarthritis, which is usually a result of wear and tear.
As for now, there’s no real remedy for Rheumatoid Arthritis and, without proper treatment, it can progress into a debilitating chronic condition and dramatically hurt a patient’s life quality. What used to be simple day-to-day activities turns into impossible painful challenges.
Many patients who suffer from chronic pain, will end up quitting their jobs, and almost a fifth of patients experience mental conditions like depression because of disabilities and life changes. Having autoimmune conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis will actually increase one’s likelihood to experience other inflammatory conditions, many, like cardiovascular diseases and stroke, which are potentially fatal.
Since the root cause behind the malfunction of the immune system is still unknown, most treatments these days focus on helping patients manage their pain by minimizing inflammation and preventing additional tissue damage.
And then there were steroids – can’t live with them, can’t live without them
But steroids have been used as a ‘first line of defense’ for Rheumatoid Arthritis since 1948. That year, the first clinical trial using steroids to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis was conducted in Mayo clinic. After two days, in which the trial’s subject received 2 steroid injections, her condition improved dramatically, and she was dismissed from the hospital.
The anecdote tells that the first thing she did was go on a shopping spree that lasted 3 whole hours. Some things never change… even steroids can serve as a good excuse for shopping.
Biological medications to treat COVID-related inflammation
In recent years, a steroid named Dexamethasone became the leading medication for reducing the inflammation caused by COVID. And toward the end of 2020, it turned out that when combined with another medication used to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis, tocilizumab or Actemra by brand it works even better.
Actemra is a medication that belongs to the biological medications, which are, in essence, medications that contain antibodies, which are similar to the antibodies that are naturally created naturally by our immune system when it fights infections and viruses.
The difference is that those antibodies that are present in the biological drugs were engineered to attack various components of the immune system, like B-cells, T-cells, and specific chemokines (signaling proteins).
A biological breakthrough in treating Rheumatoid Arthritis
In the past 2 decades, biological medications have created a real breakthrough in treating Rheumatoid Arthritis and have really allowed taking control over the autoimmune reaction.
Actemra was approved by the FDA in 2010. It has an antibody that blocks the activity of a receptor called Interleukin 6 (IL-6). This receptor signals the immune system to “send backup forces” to where it’s located. But backup comes in numbers far greater than required, and that triggers inflammation.
The main problem with using steroids is the side effects that these can cause. Furthermore, medications that suppress the immune system, offer short-term solutions since, in the long run, they lead to an increased risk to contract other diseases and various infections.
And that’s exactly why researchers are trying to figure out what causes Rheumatoid Arthritis. If we could identify the core source of the disease, science will have a greater chance to create medications that could stop and ‘cure’ us of this condition. And doing so without hurting the usual activity of our immune system.
Immunotherapy - using our own immune system to help fight diseases
In Nov 2020, a group of researchers published a piece in the scientific journal Lancet and discussed the potential that lies in immunotherapy – taking advantage of the immune system to prolong disease remission and prevent its progression.
Researchers indicated that while research on immunotherapy to treat various types of cancers is in advanced stages, research for such practice to be used with autoimmune conditions is not as nearly as advanced.
However, in recent years, there were a few researches that were conducted and examined the breakout of Rheumatoid Arthritis among cancer patients, who were treated with immunotherapy medications. Well, Rheumatoid Arthritis is never a good thing, but there’s a positive scientific aspect here.
While in the past, the diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis was possible only when symptoms were already present, now, since such cancer patients are at risk of developing Rheumatoid Arthritis, it can be researched in the earliest stages of the condition.
A vaccination against rheumatoid arthritis. For real
Additionally, there have been initial research on using a peptide-based vaccination therapy for rheumatic diseases, while an additional angle of research focuses on developing a vaccine that will work to suppress a specific type of T cells. Imagine - a vaccination against Rheumatoid Arthritis. Wooha!
These T cells are such that cannot tell apart self-antigens, the good ones (triggering legit in-cell processes) from foreign antigens, the bad ones (external pathogens like viruses). Such ‘bad’ antigens, cause hyperstimulation (over-activity) of the immune system, which, in turn, triggers the creation of antibodies.
Normally, T cells go through a ‘filtration’ in our lymphatic system, a process that includes a chemical reaction in our lymph nodes that causes the death of over-aggressive cells, prior to when they complete their development.
For people who suffer from autoimmune conditions, this filtration process does not work properly. On that note, at the beginning of February 2021, Pfizer signed an agreement with a Belgian biotech company named Lmcyse, in order to develop a medication that is meant to treat exactly this challenge.
There's never been a better time to have rheumatoid arthritis
Recent years’ developments in immunotherapy practice has opened the possibility to develop a novel medication to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis in the near future.
It’s very much possible that research that was conducted and is still being conducted around COVID, would help shed some new light on better treating Rheumatoid Arthritis and help push the process faster.
Generally speaking, I always say that the breakthroughs in modern medicine in treating Rheumatoid Arthritis are astonishing and, that, if you are doomed to have this disease, there’s no better time to have it than in this era.
Having had Rheumatoid Arthritis for almost 30 years, I’ve lived through this modern medicine progression. If in the past, painkillers were the only answer, then, came medications like Methotrexate that work to suppress the immune system all across, and later came the biologicals that specifically target in-cell inflammatory processes.
As a result, substantial joint deformations that are caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis, are farther less common, and the number of wheelchair-bound disabled patients has substantially decreased.
Nonetheless, modern medicine still didn’t really manage to take full control over this Rheumatoid Arthritis but looks like the future holds some good stuff for us patients.
Early detection and treatment are key for rheumatoid arthritis
The best advice is to be aware of symptoms that could indicate having Rheumatoid Arthritis and seek treatment as early as possible. With today’s medications, early diagnosis means early disease control, which in turn, means, less pain and joint damage and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
And, as always, I warmly recommend giving my CBD-rich Broad Spectrum oil a chance in helping your immune system fight inflammation. Since I founded Reclaim Labs, inspired by my own success story in weaning off steroids after 23 years, I've had many success stories of helping fellow patients. Whether it's rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, or other autoimmune conditions, my oil can help support a healthier immune system.