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Blood test may predict risk for rheumatoid arthritis

A blood test for an altered protein found in the joints of rheumatoid arthritis patients can show whether a person has rheumatoid arthritis years before symptoms appear.

Rheumatoid arthritis can be detected using a specific blood test for an immune response to inflammation. Scientists have found testing for the proteins causing the immune response is far more sensitive and accurate — potentially allowing doctors to spot the condition as many as 15 years before its effects can be felt.

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by antibodies sent by the immune system to address inflammation mistakenly attacking the body’s own tissues. The cause is proteins altered by a process called citrullination.

The previous version of the test, called CCP, can detect the altered proteins. Researchers searched for a more reliable measure, however, focusing on the specific protein tenascin-C.

“We knew that tenascin-C is found at high levels in the joints of people with rheumatoid arthritis,” said Dr. Anja Schwenzer, a researcher at the University of Oxford, in a press release. “We decided to see if it could be citrullinated and, if so, whether it was a target for the autoantibodies that attack the body in RA. That might also indicate whether it could be used in tests to indicate the disease.”

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