I’ve mentioned the use of precision medicine when treating patients with cancer in a previous post. Given the successes we’ve already witness in this area, it’s likely that in the next several years we will start to see patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis reap the benefits as well. Those with RA struggle on a daily basis with swollen and painful joints, which can make daily tasks difficult and sometimes impossible. Precision medicine, according to the National Institute of Health “allow[s] doctors and researchers to predict more accurately which treatment and prevention strategies for a particular disease will work in which groups of people.” Here’s a look at how this groundbreaking method of treatment can help those with RA.

Eliminating Trial and Error

In general, the state of the art treatment of RA until this point has been a commonly used “trial and error” methods of treatment. Both time and money are spent trying to find a medication that works, and it’s not efficient for the patient or doctor. Medicines that don’t work can either be ineffective or highly dangerous to use; the quest for the “right’ treatment creates a lot of frustration for patient, is costly to patient and insurance companies, and generally reflects an inefficiency in the practice of medicine. Healthline reveals that “Because of the inherent risks and the high price tag, it can be disappointing to people with RA and their doctors when a drug is ineffective, or, when a patient plateaus on it or has adverse reactions.” The use of precision medicine when combating RA offers a solution for patients that reduces the cost, both monetary and emotional.

Development of New Diagnostic Approaches

In general, doctors have relied upon blood tests to guide their approach to treatment. However, a multisite study conducted by Northwestern Medicine has led to a breakthrough in developing a different, and potentially more specific approach.

Researchers have begun to find effective treatments for individual RA patients by evaluating their joint tissue. Instead of using blood tests to determine the best course of action, doctors take a biopsy of the joint tissue using ultrasound technology. The removed tissue is then genotyped; ultimately the genetic makeup determined the treatment used. By going directly to the source, this course of action is quite similar to how doctors treat tumors.  Doctors can now take a genetic profile of the tissue and use it to determine which drugs will work best, a development we first witnessed in precision medicine treatments for cancer.

Rheumatoid Arthritis affects approximately 1.5 million people in the United States. This debilitating condition leads to years of pain and reduced mobility, and our current approach to treatment often falls short. Thanks to these advances in precision medicine we are likely to see new and innovative ways to treat all sorts of chronic illness like RA entering the field within the next several years.