Colo. doctors discover link between fat cells and arthritis

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AURORA, Colo. — Doctors and professors at the University of Colorado School of Medicine have made a discovery linking fat cells to rheumatoid arthritis.

“We found that fat in the knee joints secretes a protein called pro-factor D which gives rise to another protein known as factor D that is linked to arthritis,” said Nirmal Banda, Ph.D., and associate professor of medicine in the Division of Rheumatology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Banda said that in the study, mice without factor D could not get rheumatoid arthritis.

About 1.3 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that gradually destroy bones, muscles, joints, cartilage and other connective tissue.

Banda spent the last 14 years tracking down the causes of rheumatoid arthritis in collaboration with professors Michael Holers, MD, and William Arend, MD. at CU’s School of Medicine. Banda is the senior author of the study which was published this week.

“We are looking at vaccines, drugs or inhibitors to stop the local secretion of pro-factor D in the mouse,” Banda said. “Our goal would be to stop the disease before it progresses and leads to joint destruction.”

According to the study, factor D is part of the complement system, a complex array of over 40 proteins that help the body fight off bacteria and other pathogens.

In studies with arthritic mice, Banda previously found that the complement pathway involving factor D made the mice susceptible to inflammatory arthritis. He found that removing factor D, rather than the entire complement system, achieves the same result without compromising other parts of the system that can fight infection.

“We know that fat is normally present around all organs of the body,” Banda said. “But what we didn’t know until now was that the fat is secreting this protein which actually triggers arthritis in the joints.”

New medications resulting from the study’s discovery could treat inflammatory arthritis throughout the body.

“We believe we can shut down one part of the complement system that triggers disease without shutting down the rest. If so, we will be making a major stride toward treating and perhaps even curing rheumatoid arthritis,” Banda added.

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