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Queensland rheumatoid arthritis research offers hope for sufferers



11-Jul-2007

Research into a new therapy that could prove effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis is to get major Queensland Government funding. Queensland Minister for State Development John Mickel said Dr Christelle Capini from the University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute for Cancer, Immunology and Metabolic Medicine had received a $150,000 Smart State Fellowship for her work on treating the debilitating disease. (PressZoom) - Research into a new therapy that could prove effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis is to get major Queensland Government funding.

Queensland Minister for State Development John Mickel said Dr Christelle Capini from the University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute for Cancer, Immunology and Metabolic Medicine had received a $150,000 Smart State Fellowship for her work on treating the debilitating disease.

‘Rheumatoid arthritis affects about half a million Australians and is one of the most common causes of chronic disability. The disease reduces survival by an average of 10 years and costs $93,000 per patient in direct medical costs,” Mr Mickel said.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects the joints, particularly hands, feet and knees and although the causes are not fully understood, it seems that the body’s own immune system is responsible – it attacks its own molecules, causing inflammation, then disease.

“While current therapies are often effective in reducing symptoms and disability, they do carry the risk of side-effect, especially for patients with diabetes and liver disease,” Mr Mickel said.

He said researchers at the Diamantina Institute had found that a vaccine consisting of dendritic cells, grown in the laboratory from the blood of a patient to be immunised, was expected to be very successful in treating the disease, with a good tolerance level by patients and less toxicity.

Dendritic cells are immune cells and scientists can manipulate these cells to activate a specific immune response in a host.

Dr Capini said in spite of the potential of such therapy, there were obstacles to the successful commercial development of cell therapy for widespread use in patients, including issues of product quality control and cost.

“So at the Diamantina Institute, our team has pioneered an alternative therapy. We’ve been working on a new cell free therapy, using liposomes, or lipid vesticules, to carry antigens and specific inhibitors, or basically a message, to the patient’s own dendritic cells to develop the appropriate response to the disease,” Dr Capini said.






“Basically, we’ll target the patient’s own auto-immune system to kick in and treat the disease,” she said.

She said if this proved effective, it opened the way for the development of a drug that could have widespread use in patients and could be commercially produced in large quantities.

Dr Capini will use her Smart State Fellowship to continue and confirm the effectiveness of the liposome technology in animal models, allowing the team to move forward into human clinical trials as a next step at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

“The results from our pre-clinical tests are very exciting. This method of targeting cells as dendritic cells to ingest liposomes after injection is novel in its approach to preventing Rheumatoid Arthritis. We have already got a significant antigen-specific decrease of the arthritis in the animal model tested,” she said.

Mr Mickel said the technology not only had the potential to be an effective treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis, but it could also be used to treat a number of auto-immune diseases, including lupus, Type 1 juvenile diabetes, scleroderma, Addison disease, pernicious anemia, and pulmonary fibrosis.

“Auto-immune diseases affect about one in 20 Australians, resulting in decreased quality of life, depression, anxiety, heart disease and reduced life-span, high health care costs and substantial loss of productivity.

“If Dr Capini’s research comes up trumps here, this will be a major breakthrough for people suffering from these terrible diseases,” Mr Mickel said.

The Smart State Fellowships are part of the Queensland Government’s $200 million Smart State Innovation Funding Program, which aims to build world-class research facilities, attract top-quality scientists to Queensland and stimulate cutting-edge research projects.

Round Two of the Smart State Innovation Funds set out about $18.5 million in assistance, including project funding, research fellowships and university internships

Mr Mickel is hosting a special reception at 3pm today for the latest recipients of the Smart State Fellowship and Queensland Clinical Research Fellowship programs at the Queensland Room, the Executive Building, 100 George Street, Brisbane.

“The Queensland Government has invested more than $3 billion in innovation, science and research since 1998. I think this demonstrates our deep and ongoing commitment to maintaining Queensland’s reputation as the Smart State,” Mr Mickel said.

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