Although there are multiple treatments available for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), those suffering from the condition can still find themselves experiencing unforeseen flare-ups and painful bouts of stiffness. Now, researchers from the University of Virginia Health System have unintentionally discovered a new treatment for RA that may make a noticeable difference in arthritic pain.

Dr. Sanja Arandjelovic and her team accidentally discovered the possible treatment whilst investigating a potential cause for arthritic inflammation. After isolating a gene known as ELMO1, Dr. Arandjelovic noticed that the removal of the gene had a measurable impact on the pain associated with arthritis.

“This was a complete surprise to us initially,” revealed researcher Dr. Kodi Ravichandran. “I love those kinds of results because they tell us that, first, we did not fully comprehend the scientific problem when we began exploring it, and, second, such unexpected results challenge us to think in a different way. Given that rheumatoid arthritis affects millions of people worldwide, we felt the need to understand this observation better.”

Dr. Arandjelovic’s team believes ELMO1’s interaction with a specific type of white blood cell, known as a neutrophil, is what triggers the inflammatory response behind arthritic pain. “Normally [neutrophils] are good for us, against many bacterial infections,” Dr. Ravichandran said. “But also there are many times when they produce a lot of friendly fire that is quite damaging to the tissues — when they hang around too long or there are too many neutrophils coming in — in this case, infiltrating into the joints during arthritis.”

After more extensive testing, researchers found that blocking the ELMO1 gene effectively reduced arthritic symptoms and appeared to have no negative side effects. With this discovery, researchers can work to develop a drug that can target the ELMO1 gene in order to ease RA symptoms.

However, the development and distribution of a gene-target drug will take some time. With millions of people around the world suffering from RA, medical professionals have urged patients to reflect on their diet when managing RA symptoms. If you do initiate a dietary intervention, consider trying food elimination, veganism, a Mediterranean diet, or the elemental diet.

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