Local Researchers Find Two New Genes Linked To Disabling Disease

Researchers here in Houston say they've discovered two new genes that could help lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of a disabling form of arthritis. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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The research is published in today's online edition of Nature Genetics and is a major step in the search for what causes ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that attacks the spine and other joints and organs. Dr. John Reveille is a professor and director of the Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunogenetics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He and colleagues in Australia and England have discovered two genes that give them a better understanding of what causes AS.

"Recently the technology has moved forward to the point where you can sort of scan the whole human genome, much like putting down mileposts on a highway and as you drop down a milepost, you look around the milepost and you look to see what's around it and you lo and behold can find these genes. These are called genome-wide scans."

The newly discovered genes, called ARTS1 and IL23R,  show a new pathway of what causes AS and together with an already discovered gene, account for about 70 percent for the overall cause of the disease.  Reveille says the discoveries could lead to earlier diagnosis of AS.

"The problem with ankylosing spondylitis is that an average of 7-10 years go by from the time the back pain starts and it actually shows up on regular x-rays. We very clearly have to get in there earlier to try to cut down the inflammation, the pain and reduce the disability associated with this disease."

About 1 in 200 people suffer from AS, mostly men who usually feel symptoms that start with a sore and stiff lower back. Steve Haskew of Dickinson wasn't diagnosed with AS until ten years after the symptoms started. He says the new gene discoveries offer hope.

"I know it's exciting for the doctors to have those discoveries and to be able to look forward to them and for us that have the disease, it's equally as exciting just to know that a lot of people coming along behind us won't have to go through the same aggrevation and frustration that we did trying to get diagnosed and treated."

Dr. Reveille says reasearchers are very close to a complete discovery of what causes AS.

"At this time next year we should have an idea of at least some of those genes. That's not a brag. It's just the fact that the scan is almost done. We've got the regions identified. It just comes down to again, knocking on doors in the houses around those mileposts to find where that gene lives."

You can find out more about the findings in today's online edition of Nature Genetics.



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