Rheumatoid arthritis, painful bone disorder in the joints, can be prevented, say researchers from the Kings College, and
the Guys Hospital, both in London, by
oral intakes of collagen two, a proteinaceous natural substance widely found in the joint tissues of vertebrates.
Apart from arthritis, several other
auto-immune diseases like multiple
sclerosis, where the human immune
system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the body, can be tackled by the
Oral Tolerisation Programme.
In rheumatoid arthritis the tissue
that comes under auto-immune attack
is a chemical constituent of some form
of the cartilage (the connective tissue
with tough elastic fibres that is present
at the joints of two bones to cushion
strong impacts and reduce friction).
Only some of the cartilage tissues contain collagen two, though ordinary
collagen is found quite widely in the
Professor Gabriel Payani, of Guys
Hospital, found that collagen two when
injected in test animals like mice, stimulates lymphocytes, white blood cells that are the key functionaries of the immune
system, which attack joint tissues. In
1986, Norman Staines of the Kings
College made the pioneering discovery
that collagen two, when given orally to
mice and rats, actually suppressed
arthritic symptoms. Gabriel Kingsley of
the rheumatology unit of the Guys
Hospital hypothesised that it was collagen two that comes under autoimmune attack in arthritic humans.
Oral doses of collagen two, which normally does not form part of human diet, have a completely opposite effect to that
which occurs when it is injected.
Kingsley's later researches were
focused on why collagen two, when
taken orally triggered such a different
response. The answer, as it now appears,
is quite simple. "The suppression is
obviously necessary, otherwise the
immune system would soon grow weary
of reacting to every foreign protein in
the food we eat. The idea is to. take a
protein (collagen two, in this case)
against which the patient is making an
immune response. Intestinal absorption
suppresses the immune response. The
(immune) system then reacts less
against the joint tissues and the arthritis
eventually settles," explains Kingsley.
An American pharmaceutical and
biotechnological firm, Auto Immune of
Lexington, Massachusetts, us, recently
tested oral toleration of human patients.
Though the patients were only a few in
number the therapy has shown promising results. The trial about to begin at
the Guys Hospital, involving a large
number of patients, should show firm
conclusions and researchers would
know whether there is a need to modify
the treatment before using it clinically.
Once successful, the therapy
has many advantages over traditional injections and toxic
drugs to counter rheumatoid
arthritis. "Essentially, there
would be no side effects and
long-term treatment would be
possible," opines Kingsley. The
collagen used in the trials are
being processed from chicken
and beef bones. Though the
doctors are yet to hit upon the
right dosage, many patients
would prefer chewing well-cooked bones to unwelcome
injections and other drugs.