Arthritis Foundation Announces over $1 Million in Grants to Advance Rheumatoid Arthritis Research

Rheumatoid Arthritis Research Program grants will help investigators research the underlying causes of RA development as well as patients’ response to treatment and development of medication-induced side effects.

ATLANTA (October 30, 2023) – By launching an unabated assault of inflammation on the body’s joints, the immune system is responsible for much of the pain and swelling that are hallmarks of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This complex condition is orchestrated by the combined action of multiple factors, including genes, hormones and the environment, that influence immune cells and their activities. Thus, unraveling the biological underpinnings of RA is essential to developing effective therapies to manage this chronic autoimmune disease.

Toward that goal, the Arthritis Foundation is funding three research awards for investigators whose work will provide a better understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying the development of RA as well as patients’ response to treatment and development of medication-induced side effects.

“The research supported in this year’s grants will help in uncovering novel treatments for better disease control, better predict an individual’s susceptibility to medication-induced side effects, and reveal the underlying factors that lead to the development of RA,” said Kristen Mueller, PhD, vice president of autoimmune arthritis research at the Foundation.

Alongside pain relievers and glucocorticoids (also known as corticosteroids, or steroids), treatments for RA include conventional synthetic and biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) that slow disease progression. While these medications can provide much relief to people with RA, their responses vary widely and can change over time. The reasons for this variability in health outcomes from the same drug are not well understood, in part because the physiological processes of the disease has yet to be entirely understood.

With a two-year “pilot” award (for an early stage of the study), Michael George, MD, at the University of Pennsylvania, will investigate whether specific genetic traits put certain people with RA taking glucocorticoids at risk for developing metabolic side effects, such as diabetes, weight gain and high cholesterol. For his project, Dr. George and his team will use the medical data collected through the Veterans Affairs Rheumatoid Arthritis Registry.

In addition to the pilot award, the Foundation has conferred two three-year research awards. One of these grants will help Wen-Yuan Elena Hsieh, MD, at the University of Colorado Denver, to investigate if there are telltale immunological signatures in the blood samples of people who are preclinical for RA — that is, before clinical signs and symptoms of inflammatory arthritis have developed — that make them more likely to develop the disease.

A grant awarded to Theresa Wampler Muskardin, MD, at the Hospital for Special Surgery, will help her identify biomarkers that predict the success of a particular treatment for RA. Her team has already developed a “synovium-on-a-chip,” a device that allows them to grow synovial cells taken from patients’ joints externally, and then look for biomarkers. This device holds promise to help make RA therapies more personalized for each patient.

“The Arthritis Foundation is steadfast in its commitment to improving the lives of those living with rheumatoid arthritis,” said Foundation President and CEO Steven Taylor. “We are delighted to support the research endeavors of our very talented awardees this year, who will help narrow some of the gaps in our understanding of the disease so that better and more effective treatments can be developed.”

2023 Rheumatoid Arthritis Program Awardees

1.    Michael George, MD, University of Pennsylvania


Genetic predictors of metabolic adverse effects with glucocorticoid treatment in patients with rheumatoid arthritis

2.    Wen-Yuan Elena Hsieh, MD, University of Colorado, Denver


Immunological determinants of the development of clinical rheumatoid arthritis evaluated in the pre-RA and early stages of disease

3.    Theresa Wampler Muskardin, MD, Hospital for Special Surgery


Examination of pathotype-specific biology and treatment response using microbioengineered and rheumatoid arthritis patient-derived synovium-on-a-chip


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