Research team investigating effectiveness of rheumatoid arthritis treatment

Dr Mamadou Diop

Lawson scientist will use an optical technique to determine effectiveness of rheumatoid arthritis treatment

Lawson Internal Research Fund will help to investigate whether a previously developed optical technique that can detect arthritis within one week of onset could also be used to provide early assessment of treatment response for rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

This method could reduce the risk of further joint damage in patients for whom drugs are ineffective.

A research team led by Lawson scientist Dr. Mamadou Diop has been awarded a Lawson Internal Research Fund to investigate whether a previously developed optical technique that can detect arthritis within one week of onset could also be used to provide early assessment of treatment response for rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

RA is a disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints, which results in pain, reduced quality of life and loss of productivity. There is no cure for RA but a new category of drugs – biologic agents that can reduce pain and slow down or even halt disease progression – has revolutionized treatment.

However, these new drugs are expensive and only work in 30 per cent of patients. Therefore, many RA sufferers are treated with no benefit for up to six months – the time it takes for current monitoring methods to reliably determine whether a treatment is working or not. “This is a direct consequence of the lack of sensitivity of current monitoring methods,” says Dr. Diop, who is also an assistant professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

Since their recently developed optical technique has a high sensitivity to arthritis, Dr. Diop and his team believes it could also be used as a safe and convenient method of assessing treatment efficacy in RA patients. Additionally, there are striking similarities between RA and cancer, and it has been shown that optical techniques can predict cancer in as early as one day after therapy starts.

At St. Joseph’s Health Care London, they will test this theory in a rat model of RA and compare the results of the optical technique to histology and CT imaging, other established methods of determining whether a treatment is effective.

“If successful, this project will generate a safe, low-cost technique that can detect treatment response in RA within days of starting treatment. This would reduce the risk of further joint damage experienced by many patients for whom the drugs are ineffective,” says Dr. Diop. “We hope this will enable early redirection of patients with non-responding RA to alternative treatments, such as a combination of multiple drugs and more frequent monitoring.”

Dr. Diop adds, “The Lawson IRF grant will enable us to test the validity of our hypothesis and subsequently generate valuable preliminary results to support grant proposals for larger external funding.”

The IRF is designed to provide Lawson scientists and students the opportunity to obtain start-up funds for new projects with the potential to obtain larger funding, be published in a high-impact journal, or provide a clinical benefit to patients. Funding is provided by the clinical departments of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, as well as the hospital foundations (London Health Sciences Foundation and St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation).

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