The Arthritis Foundation: What We’re Excited About
The number one cause of disability in the United States is arthritis, affecting over 50 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation. This means 1 in every 5 adults, 300,000 children, and countless families, the AF says.
Arthritis is a painful condition that affects one’s quality of life. The AF’s mission is to conquer arthritis. WomensHealth.com spoke with the organization about what it has accomplished in this past year.
WomensHealth.com: Tell us about 2016. What research is the Arthritis Foundation excited about?
Guy Eakin, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Scientific Strategy, Arthritis Foundation: Of the many types of arthritis, Osteoarthritis (OA) is by far the most prevalent – and whereas we have had astounding advances in disease like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), people with OA have not seen these types of advances. We are trying to address this in a major clinical trial initiative — but there have been some exciting discoveries even in the last year. I likely have two favorites – one is a new MRI technique for determining who might be at risk for OA following knee surgeries – this has tremendous implications for sports injuries. The other looks at hip replacements – and asks if adult stem cells can be coaxed to create artificial cartilage on scaffolding customized to a person’s joint architecture. This might offer an alternative to hip replacement in the future; see blog post about this discovery.
WH: What new therapies or drugs are available that our readers should know about?
GE: The biggest news in new drugs is biosimilars. These are working their way through FDA and even the courts. Biosimilars are chemically identical versions to biologic drugs that are already on the market for non-osteoarthritis forms of arthritis. The biologics are proteins that inhibit inflammation, and have been revolutionary in the treatment of these arthritis types. In some ways the biosimilars are like what we think of as generic drugs – they aren’t generic, and it’s not quite right to call them that, but there are some similarities. Once they become available there are several issues. One is there may be lower costs for treatment (and biologics are very expensive to develop and manufacture). The other is that with reduced cost comes a desire on the reimbursement side to pay for the similar molecule, rather than the original ‘reference’ drug. This has a host of implications that patients should be informed about. The Arthritis Foundation offers many resources to help patients educate themselves about these rapidly evolving topics like biosimilars.
WH: What continue to be the biggest challenges to those working in the field of arthritis?
It is quite simply an underfunded disease. Remember, this is one of the leading causes of disability. It has tremendous implications for our economy — it’s why people, especially women, leave the workforce — at cost to both themselves and employers – yet we spend comparatively little on arthritis research than we do on other diseases.
WH: What support is available to individuals and families who are living with arthritis?
Marcy O’Koon Moss, Senior Director of Consumer Health for the Arthritis Foundation: The Arthritis Foundation has a lot of information as well as a number of online tools to help people understand and manage their disease and symptoms. There are sections for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and more. There are also tools to look up drugs used for arthritis, symptom trackers for sharing with your doctor and one that gives personalized exercise guidance, ways to do many types of physical activities and protect your joints. We also have a hotline for support (1-844-571-HELP), online tools and resource center and an award-winning, bi-monthly health magazine, Arthritis Today, to help people live better with arthritis.
WH: What goals does the AF have for 2017?
AF: Here is a link that discusses four initiatives that we plan to focus on.
WH: What areas of research is your foundation excited about for the future?
GE: Expect to see a lot coming down the path on osteoarthritis – as I mentioned we are starting a major clinical trial network and are working closely with regulatory bodies and the scientists who are dreaming up these new drugs to test future cures. But not all research is about drugs; we are also looking intently at the best practices of clinical care – and asking how people affected by arthritis can become better empowered to co-produce treatment plans with their doctors.
WH: What would you like female readers to know about the Arthritis Foundation that you haven’t addressed?
MM Women are at greater risk than men for almost all types of arthritis, including the most common type, osteoarthritis, as well as the inflammatory and autoimmune types, such as rheumatoid arthritis. It’s important to stay physically active, keep a healthy weight, and to see your doctor if you have symptoms. Some types of arthritis can be controlled with medication, preventing permanent joint damage. And for all types, there are strategies to help maintain joint function and reduce pain.