Arthritis has been at the center of countless medical research in recent years, mainly due to the pain and limitations it places on its sufferers. Arthritis is also often thought to be a condition regulated to the elderly and older adults, but this is not always the case. Many children and young adults also suffer from different forms of arthritis, and researchers had previously been confused on how arthritis was inflicted on the younger generations. New research has attempted to answer this question by looking at genetic indicators, and gives promising information that could lead to better diagnoses and other treatment options for younger arthritis patients.
Scientists and doctors from the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre have set out to find the causes of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). JIA tends to affect the immune system and leads to pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints of JIA patients. JIA is not very common, only affecting 50,000 children in the US. However, no one wants to see children suffer the pain and handicaps that JIA inflicts. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for JIA, and the only course of action is to alleviate the pain and stiffness of patients. Still, finding the cause of JIA may help researchers create better treatments, and could even lead to eventual prevention of this terrible disease.
There were two main discoveries found by researchers in this study, each with its own host of implications. The first involves what are called Treg cells. Treg cells, also known as regulatory T cells, are mainly responsible for boosting the autoimmune system and preventing diseases and inflammation. Researchers in this study discovered an unknown group of Treg cells that is associated with inflammation in JIA. When studying these T cells, researchers found that they can affect the progression of JIA. When JIA progresses, this group of T cells expand, reproduce, re-circulate through inflamed areas and migrate to patient's joints. The larger this group of T cells are, the more unresponsive younger patients will be to most JIA therapy methods. Additionally, these T cells make it much harder for younger patient's autoimmune systems to control inflammation.
The discovery of this group of T cells has many important implications. Firstly, the presence of these cells could give doctors an easier method of detecting JIA in younger patients. These T cells can also give doctors an idea of how responsive JIA patients will be to certain types of therapy, and could lead to better treatment plans for these children in the future. Finding these T cells is painless and non-invasive for patients, as they are easily detectable in minimal blood samples.
The second biggest discovery was the effect that JIA patient's DNA had on their treatment outcomes. Currently, only one-third of JIA patients show improvement in symptoms after treatment. Researchers found that a patient's epigenetics, an individual's DNA and how it uses its genes, were likely to determine the treatment options and outcomes. To put it more simply, it isn't about a patient's genetic makeup as much as it is how their body uses those genes.
This discovery is very important for clinicians designing treatment options for those with JIA. By looking at patient's epigenetics and not their DNA makeup, doctors can come up with better more personalized treatments for these patients. This will save time, money, and pain for any JIA patients and their families. Furthermore, it will help doctors understand when more complex treatments are necessary and give them an idea on how patients may respond to these treatments.
While the study primarily focuses on JIA, it should be mentioned that the findings in this study have implications for adult rheumatoid arthritis patients as well. Studying epigenetics could be key to creating even more effective treatments for arthritis patient's, and could be important in predicting the outcomes of arthritis treatments.
Coping with Juvenile Arthritis
This study gives a very positive outlook on treating and alleviating JIA in those suffering from it. However, to children suffering from JIA this provides little solace. It can be incredibly hard for parents of children with JIA. The expensive treatments, the countless therapy sessions, and seeing your child in pain will take a heavy toll on any parent. We want to give you a few tips and tricks on coping with this horrible disease, and helping your children feel a little more comfortable.
Normalcy Is Important - Having juvenile arthritis can make children feel inferior to other children, and they tend to have reduced confidence as a result. While JIA should be taken seriously and treated, it also shouldn't stop your child from leading a happy and healthy life. To this end, make sure you treat your child as you would any other child. Make sure they get to play outside, participate in sports, and anything else that may be interested in doing. Talk to your child's primary physician about what you can do to help them do all of these activities without issues. If you allow them to do what other children do, it will make them feel less ostracized and give them a boost of confidence.
Keep Them Moving - Like in any other arthritis patients, inactivity can lead to stiff joints, inflammation, and lots of pain. You should find ways to get your child moving in ways that don't aggravate their symptoms. Going on family walks, going swimming at a local pool, or playing at the playground are all great ways to get your child active. This will loosen their joints, reduce inflammation, and make them more mobile.
Be Aware of School Experiences - Schooling can be particularly difficult for children suffering from JIA. Joint pain can cause students trouble getting to class on time and could lead to attention issues when in class. Unfortunately, children with JIA also tend to face ridicule and condemnation from their peers, teachers, and other school officials. You should meet with school officials to explain your child's condition and what they need in order to be successful during the school day. If school officials seem to write off your concerns, you may need to consider finding a different school or attending a local school board meeting to voice your concerns. You also should meet with a school counselor and ask how your child is faring. If they are dealing with bullying issues (as so many with JIA tend to face) ask your counselor how you can help your child. In some cases, local JIA groups will bring representatives to explain JIA to students to help tackle misconceptions that could lead to problems with teachers and peers.
Keep Morale Up - As a parent, the best thing you can do is reassure your child that everything will be OK. Boost their confidence by giving them examples of successful people overcoming arthritis (Basketball center Shaquille O'Neal, Olympic Gold Medalist Dorothy Hamill, or hockey legend Gordon Howe to name a few). Try and understand the weight this disease puts on them, and make sure they know that the disease will not keep them from a normal and healthy life.
Juvenile arthritis is a disease that can make it incredibly hard on children and their parents. New studies revolving around Treg cells and epigenetics may be keys to unlocking better treatment options for those suffering from JIA. In the meantime, parents should do everything in their power to make JIA patients' lives as painless as possible by being actively involved in their physical activity, education, and morale.