American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Stimulus Package)

NIAMS ARRA Chronicles

ARRA-Funded Scientists Put RA Diagnosis, Therapy in Research Sights
Dateline: Palo Alto, Calif.

December 15, 2010

People with the common autoimmune joint disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), have benefited significantly in recent years from drugs called biologics, especially those from a group known as anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) agents. But despite these drugs’ success, says William Robinson, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University’s School of Medicine and the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, approximately one-third of RA patients show no improvement with the therapy. Using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), assisted by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, Dr. Robinson and his team have embarked on a project to develop tests that will help diagnose RA earlier—a factor that has been linked to a better disease outcome—and identify those RA patients who would benefit most from anti-TNF drugs.

Photo of Dr. William Robinson

Photo ID: Dr. William Robinson

In developing tests for the early diagnosis of RA, the researchers are using microarray technology to examine factors at work in the body before arthritis manifests. The technique allows them to profile autoantibodies (protein that destroy the body’s own healthy tissues) and cytokines (cell communication proteins) in pre-disease blood serum samples from people who later developed RA, as well as in patients with established RA. Such information, the scientists say, will tell them the specificity and concentration of the autoantibodies involved, and the levels of cytokines (such as tumor necrosis factor) in the blood serum before RA manifests. (Cytokine levels have been found to be elevated in some people with early RA.)

The investigators are also using the technology to find biomarkers that will predict a person’s response to anti-TNF treatment. Further, Dr. Robinson’s group intends to translate these biomarkers into tests for use in clinical practice. The project has the potential, Dr. Robinson declares, to "shed light on mechanisms that underpin the development of autoimmunity in RA and on the molecular basis for response to anti-TNF therapeutics.”"

Dr. Robinson explains that ARRA funding has "dramatically accelerated our research efforts to develop diagnostic tests for RA." ARRA support has also allowed him to hire both a promising new scientist and a bioinformatician to lead the project.

"The project’s success," he declares, "would transform care for patients with RA."

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The activity above is being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). More information about the National Institutes of Health’s ARRA grant funding opportunities can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/recovery/. To track the progress of HHS activities funded through the ARRA, visit http://www.hh.gov/rescovery/. To track all federal funds provided through the ARRA, visit http://www.recovery.gov/Pages/default.aspx.