New methods for diagnosis and personalised treatment of rheumatoid arthritis

Early diagnosis and adapted care for rheumatic patients

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common type rheumatic disease. Close to one per cent of the Swedish population suffer from this autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints.

But the course of disease varies greatly from one patient to another. The standard treatment is not suitable for everyone, and patients need to learn how the disease is affected by their lifestyle, argues Saedis Saevarsdottir, researcher at the Rheumatology Unit at the Department of Medicine at Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm.

“More than twice as many patients with healthy living habits respond to standard treatments, compared to patients who smoke or are overweight”, she says.

More efficient care

The project, supported by Swelife, has developed two tools intended to streamline the care of rheumatic patients: an antibody-based early diagnosis test (a chip) and a motivational app.

The chip is developed in conjunction with the Thermo Fischer Scientific company from Uppsala, and contains over 60 antigens which are specific to rheumatic diseases. Using the chip and a blood sample, it is possible to analyse whether the patient has developed antibodies to these antigens. Those who seek help to relieve joint pain at an early stage, prior to any swelling of the joints, and who appear to have antibodies strongly associated with RA, can receive help to change their lifestyle and thereby reduce their risk of developing the disease.

Motivational app

For people who have already been diagnosed, the app supports them in making their lifestyle changes. The app is based on algorithms developed by Saedis Saevarsdottir’s research team that puts together prognoses for disease risk and disease progression based on individual factors. With the help of the Ocean Observations company in Stockholm, which develops visualisation tools, the work is packaged into an app in which patients and caregivers will be able to see pictures showing how various lifestyle habits have an impact on the efficiency of the treatment.

“Healthcare is in great need of such a tool, and several pharmaceutical companies are interested in sponsoring the development to maximize the patients’ chances of responding to treatment. External funding is needed for this type of development, but our professional team is responsible for the content based on unique sources of data”, says Saedis Saevarsdottir.

Ahead of any competitors

A prototype of the app will soon be tested on patients. The chip has been validated and is currently tested on a large scale in international groups of patients.

“We have a unique position in the world when it comes to obtaining data for disease progression prognosis. Thermo Fisher Scientific and Ocean Observations have many years of experience in producing antigen chips and making healthcare data easy to understand.”

Text: Elisabet Ottosson

Updated on 26 June 2017

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