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Today's blog post is brought to you by Dr Helen Liang of the Sutton Arthritis Research Laboratory led by Professor Chris Jackson.

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I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow from the Sutton Arthritis Research Laboratory, who is currently supported by the Ulysses Club Arthritis Research Fellowship, to carry out a research project that aims towards developing new medicines to provide better treatment for rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common type of arthritis and one of the most damaging forms. People with this condition not only suffer severe pain, but their death rate within the first 10 years of diagnosis is also 3 times that of healthy individuals. The common clinical symptoms of arthritis include pain, swelling and stiffness of joints, inflammation, and damage to joint structures that results in joint weakness and deformity, which ultimately interferes with the most basic daily tasks such as walking and standing.

Rheumatoid arthritis is currently not curable. While the condition is usually manageable, it has huge impacts on a patient’s workforce participation and quality of life, and is a substantial contributor to the healthcare expenditure in Australia. The direct medical cost associated with rheumatoid arthritis was estimated to be more than $300 million in 2008-9, and the related indirect costs were even greater. There is a very urgent need to develop new medicines to provide better treatment or a cure for rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Current therapies for rheumatoid arthritis often involve the combinational use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, which can suppress the disease activity, but almost half the patients do not respond. In addition, these therapies can cause severe and sometimes life-threatening side effects, such as increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, infections and even cancer.

Our research project on rheumatoid arthritis aims to test the feasibility of a novel therapy to treat patients diagnosed with this detrimental disease. Specifically, we will be using new peptides that have the potential to prevent inflammation and destruction in rheumatoid arthritis. A major benefit is that this treatment is considered safe so the peptides will not cause the side effects associated with traditional therapies.

This is the first time such research has been conducted in the world. We anticipate that the knowledge gained from this project will demonstrate a superior clinical result that surpasses existing therapies. We expect that our results will ultimately have a major impact on the lives of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

On behalf of the Sutton Arthritis Research Laboratory, I would like to once again acknowledge the Ulysses Club for their generous financial support in the past years for our research that aims to find a cure for arthritis.

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