A New Hope for Relief

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Fifteen years ago I developed pain and swelling in my knees and elbows. I’d sit for a while and my knees would get stiff. My sleeping habits hadn’t changed, but I was tired much of the time. I lifted weights five days a week, so I thought I’d simply over done it.

One morning when my bus stopped outside of my office, my right leg wouldn’t straighten. I had to use my hands to straighten it before I could stand. That didn’t feel anything like normal, so I went to the doctor.  After telling him my symptoms, he suggested I might have some form of arthritis. Because of my age, the most likely culprit was rheumatoid arthritis. I was tested for that and other scary-sounding diseases including lupus, leukemia, and lyme disease.

Luckily, all the tests came back negative, but the internist still thought I had rheumatoid arthritis, because the symptoms seemed to fit.  He gave me a prescription for anti-inflammatory medication, and referred me to a rheumatologist.

I imagined the pain I would be likely to suffer as I got older. I remembered the photographs of hands severely damaged by the condition and thought I didn’t want that to be my future.

The thing about rheumatoid arthritis is there isn’t really a cure. Nobody knows what causes it, which means there are no known ways of preventing it. When I read that researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine were studying a “suicide molecule,” to treat the disease, all the memories of the helplessness and confusion of that time came back. Only this time, there was someone holding out a glimmer of hope of a cure for this disease that degrades the quality of life for many Americans.

Harris Perlman, one of the Northwestern researchers explained the hypothesis: By introducing the suicide molecule, BIM, into the affected area, they might be able to kill the cells that cause harm to joints afflicted by the disease. BIM, also known as the BCL-2 interacting protein, normally regulates cell death in the body.

In commenting on the research, University of Chicago Medical Center rheumatologist Dr. Nadera Sweiss informed me that rheumatoid arthritis not only impacts joints but also is a leading cause of premature cardiovascular disease. I’m thankful that I didn’t have that bit of information while I was waiting to see what was really wrong with me.

When I went to see my rheumatologist 15 years ago, he checked my joint movement, palpated the swollen tissue and told me I didn’t have rheumatoid arthritis. Instead, the doctor’s best guess was sarcoidosis, another condition of unknown causes. It ran its course six months later.

I feel fortunate that I didn’t have rheumatoid arthritis, but for those who do, the suicide molecule may offer the promise of relief and perhaps one day a cure.

- blog authored by Anne Boyd

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