Researchers are making discoveries about why the body turns against itself--and that could result in new treatments in the years ahead. Find out what's in the pipeline now for rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus.
Twenty-three and a half million. That’s how many Americans may be affected by one of the more than 80 diseases characterized as autoimmune. These disorders range from Hashimoto’s disease, the most common thyroid condition in America and a fairly controllable illness, to more complex progressive diseases, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Though each autoimmune disease appears to be distinct, scientists are finding out just how much they have in common.
Genes, for example. “Many of the same genes constitute risk factors for multiple autoimmune diseases,” says Betty Diamond, M.D., chief of the Center for Autoimmune Diseases at North Shore Long Island Jewish Health Systems in Manhassett, NY. Type 1 diabetes, for example, is associated with Hashimoto’s, Addison’s disease (in which the adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol) and celiac disease (in which the body loses its ability to digest gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley). “The same pathways might be involved in autoimmune activation, and targeting them may be therapeutic for several diseases,” says Dr. Diamond.
Most autoimmune diseases damage organs by promoting an inflammatory process. Scientists have been working to develop treatments to fight that inflammation; a number of treatments developed in the past decade that do so have been shown to slow or even stop progression of these diseases. Many of them are “biologics”—disease-modifying medications that mimic the function of complex natural compounds.
The coming years should bring additional improvements in treatment, as many more therapies are undergoing clinical testing. “Years ago, the only approach we had was to suppress the whole immune system, and now we have drugs that target just a part of the inflammatory response,” says Noel Rose, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Autoimmune Disease Research Center in Baltimore. “We’d like to go further, to treat the specific immune response—to turn off the autoimmune process, or arrest it. That’s where the field is going.”
Some researchers believe we are on the verge of a profound burst of knowledge that will unlock new ways to identify—and intervene in—very early changes in immune function, years before disease actually develops. The next step, says Stephen Balch, M.D., medical director of the Lupus Treatment Center in Atlanta, “is to develop a treatment that is not just specific for lupus or MS or RA but one that can attack the earliest phases in someone’s susceptibility to this autoimmune process.”
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Breaking the Autoimmune Code
I'm posting this because some researchers believe that CFS/fibro are autoimmune diseases. There have been genetic abnormalities and inflammation found in CFS, though personally, I'm more inclined to believe that the CFS end of the spectrum is caused by changes subsequent to a virus and the fibro end of the spectrum is autoimmune.