University of Oxford researchers receive grant to study genes that contribute to ankylosing spondylitis

A team at the University of Oxford has received a grant of £160,000 from Arthritis Research UK to study the function of the genes which contribute to people developing a painful inflammatory back condition called ankylosing spondylitis.

Ankylosing spondylitis, often referred to as AS, affects the spine, resulting in stiffness, loss of movement and pain as the disease develops. In some cases it can cause the ligaments in people's backs to attach to their vertebrae.

The condition can be difficult to diagnose due to its symptoms being similar to common back pain, especially in the condition's early stages. Treatments are only available to help relieve people from the pain caused by AS and include painkillers, exercise therapies and joint replacement surgery. There is currently no cure or preventive treatment for the 200,000 people in the UK it's thought to affect.

Many people with AS carry a gene called HLA-B27, which is detected by a blood test. Having this gene doesn't always mean people will develop the condition, less than one in ten does, but the condition is rare in those without it. The condition is also associated with other genes, the most important of which makes an enzyme called ERAP.

The Arthritis Research UK funded team at the University of Oxford will use the funds for a three year study to look at what goes wrong with the immune system in people with the condition when they've inherited the "risky" combination of genes, and whether they can reverse the bad effects caused to the immune system. The team hope their findings will lead to the development of new treatments targeting the genes responsible for causing the condition.

Lead researcher, Professor Paul Bowness said, "We know that AS has a very strong genetic component and we have now identified quite a number of the genes involved. However, the way in which these genes interact in causing the disease is unknown.  

"We're therefore delighted to receive this funding from Arthritis Research UK as it will allow us to increase our understanding of the genes which cause the disease."

Medical director of Arthritis Research UK, Professor Alan Silman added, "Although AS varies from person to person, it can cause considerable pain and disability for many people. This piece of exciting research offers us a better understanding of the genes involved in the disease and is an important step forwards towards new and effective treatment for people with AS."


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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