Understanding the role of white blood cells in rheumatoid arthritis

Disease - Rheumatoid arthritis

Lead applicant - Dr Sonja Vermeren

Organisation - University of Edinburgh

Type of grant - PhD Scholarship

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £142,441.34

Start date - 2 October 2017

Reference - 21577

Public Summary

What are the aims of this research?

It is known that in rheumatoid arthritis the patient's own immune cells, such as white blood cells, cause inflammation and inflict joint damage. This project aims to further understand the role that a type of white blood cell called neutrophils play in joint damage.

Why is this research important?

Neutrophils have been found to have both a positive and negative effect on joint damage. It is known that these white blood cells are responsible for much of the inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, when activated by antibodies found within the joint. However, it is also known that these antibodies can be eaten by the neutrophils, causing them to die, which reduces inflammation and promotes tissue healing.

The researchers want to understand why the neutrophils in rheumatoid arthritis patients are less able to eat these antibodies found in the joint, compared to the neutrophils in healthy people. They also want to understand whether there is something special about the antibodies present in the joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, which make them resistant to being eaten. Most importantly, the researchers want to use this information to develop new drugs which can block the neutrophils’ ability to cause inflammation (the negative effect), but keep their ability to promote tissue healing (the positive effect).

How will the finding benefit patients?

This research will provide further understanding as to how neutrophils contribute to the inflammation experienced in rheumatoid arthritis. The understanding gained from this research could, in the future, result in the development of new and more effective treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, which inhibit inflammation and promote tissue healing in the joint.