How do Omega-3 fats help to control inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis?

Disease - Rheumatoid arthritis

Lead applicant - Dr Lucy Norling

Organisation - Queen Mary University of London

Type of grant - Senior Research Fellowship

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £720,853.17

Start date - 1 September 2019

Reference - 22235

What are the aims of this research?

Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. In rheumatoid arthritis the immune system causes inflammation that lasts longer than an inflammatory response would for example, in a normal healing process. Eventually damage to the joints can occur due to ongoing inflammation.

Previous research has shown that rheumatoid arthritis may persist because the body’s usual response that works to “switch off” inflammation does not occur. Omega-3 fats (abundant in fish oils) are converted within the body into molecules that help to switch off inflammation. The researcher believes that western-style diets are often low in Omega-3 fats and that increasing levels of these fats could help reduce inflammation and allow tissue repair.

The aims of this project are to understand how lack of omega 3 can lead to the inability to switch off inflammation, and to study if changing diet can help stop persistent inflammation in arthritis and even help promote joint repair by reprogramming cells. To do this the researchers will study the effects of omega-3 on human cells in the lab, and on mice with arthritis.

Why is this research important?

Rheumatoid arthritis affects people in different ways and not all treatments work for everyone; many rheumatoid arthritis patients still experience pain and other problems. There is therefore a need to develop new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis to reduce inflammation and help people to better manage the condition.

How will findings benefit patients?

This research hopes to give us more information about how omega-3 fats control inflammation in arthritic conditions and may lead to further dietary advice for managing symptoms.

Rheumatoid arthritis cannot always be successfully controlled in all patients. Current treatments mainly manage symptoms and do not address the repair of joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis. A better understanding of the processes that control inflammation in joints could provide potential targets for new treatments, paving the way toward better symptom control, and potentially aiding joint repair.