• Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition characterized primarily by pain during flare-ups
  • Now, scientists discovered a cell that can help signal when a flare-up will occur
  • Doctors consider this a breakthrough as it can greatly help patients

A newly-discovered cell that signals painful flare-ups in rheumatoid arthritis patients may also open new ways of treating the chronic ailment, scientists said.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition characterized by painful swelling and inflammation affecting the joints. While there are many treatment options for the medical problem, the ailment does not have any cure at the present. Worst of all, patients sometimes experience agonizing flare-ups that medical professionals have no sure way of predicting.

Recently, however, a team of researchers published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealing their discovery of pre-inflammatory mesenchymal cells in the bloodstreams of patients before flare-ups happen. Also called PRIME cells, researchers say this breakthrough discovery could help doctors predict flare-ups before they occur.

early detection rheumatoid arthritis flare up
early detection rheumatoid arthritis flare up PeachMoon - Pixabay

Dr. M. Elaine Husni, the director of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Center at the Cleveland Clinic expressed excitement at the study's findings.

“It's likely going to change the paradigm of how we treat rheumatoid arthritis,” she told CBS News anchors Vladimir Duthiers and Anne-Marie Green in an interview Thursday, July 23. Dr. Husni, who was not involved with the study, added that the scientific discovery will likely change the way of how doctors treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers conducted the small-scale study on four rheumatoid arthritis patients, collecting their blood samples for four years. They found PRIME cells in 19 other patients who were also tested to confirm the results of the study.

Scientists provided patients participating in the study with finger sticks so they can perform blood testing on their own while at home. They then sent back samples for lab analysis, while at the same time, kept a record of their symptoms leading to flare-ups.

Researchers found that PRIME cells, which appear similar to cells found in cartilage or bone, start to accumulate in the bloodstream at least a week before the flare-up. They also observed that the cells decreased during the actual flare.

“It would be great that if patients could know ahead of time when they might have a flare so that they can plan their day, their week, and so far, we don't have anything that can do that,” Husni added. She also expressed her hopes that the ease with which volunteers collected the samples could pave the way towards making such tests commercially available.

Robert Darnell, a neuro-oncologist and neuroscientist at Rockefeller University, and the study’s lead researcher said he and his team are now looking at the next steps. They plan to recruit more volunteers so they can closely observe the PRIME cell and its role in signaling flare-ups.