Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful, debilitating autoimmune disease.

That makes it a difficult condition to treat.

But now, researchers have found that specific antibodies in certain people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may provide more treatment options and a better outlook for people with the disease.

In some — but not all — people with RA, there are antibodies formed that target a protein in joint cartilage called collagen II.

These antibodies often play a role in increasing inflammation in the earlier stages of RA.

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Potentially better outcomes

In the past, researchers have concluded that the highest amounts of collagen antibodies are usually detected at the time of an RA diagnosis.

These levels most often decrease during the first year of RA disease activity.

But a recent study out of Uppsala University in Sweden concluded that antibodies against the cartilage protein collagen II are associated with a good outlook.

Researchers said people with RA who have more of these antibodies often do better when it comes to treatments, the management of symptoms, and how disabling their symptoms become.

This study followed a group of people with RA over the course of five years to look at the suspected correlation between collagen antibodies and disease advancement.

What they found could prove vital as a prognostic tool and help to further individualize and implement targeted treatments.

“Analyzing these antibodies, in combination with other relevant antibodies, could be used for predicting prognosis and choosing therapy for rheumatoid arthritis patients,” Dr. Johan Rönnelid, lead researcher on the study, said in a press release.

Vivek Anand Manivel, a PhD student at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, and a lead author of the study, also offered a public statement to the press: “We found that patients with collagen antibodies showed increased signs of inflammation during the first six months after diagnosis, after this there was no difference compared to patients without any collagen antibodies. We also discovered that the presence of collagen antibodies at the time of diagnosis was associated with a better prognosis.”

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The significance of the research

What this means for people with RA is that treatments may become better-tailored to them moving forward, depending on the antibody presence and activity.

RA is a complex disease that manifests itself differently from person to person.

Since disease activity is so unpredictable, any assistance in figuring out prognosis or a better therapeutic approach could be of importance to the rheumatology community.

“In all, our findings suggest that a combined analysis of antibodies against collagen and antibodies against citrullinated peptides could be a new tool for predicting the disease course and perhaps also for choosing therapy in newly diagnosed RA patients,” said Rönnelid.

Currently, anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) is often used as an indicator for RA disease activity, alongside rheumatoid factors.

Now, doctors can look at the collagen II antibodies as well when determining disease severity and thus, a more robust and detailed plan for treatment and disease management.

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