A group of researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Germany released research results that implicate the lack of a protein in B lymphocytes in autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis. The original research was published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
In reporting on this research, an article published in a popular press outlet in Germany used the headline “German Scientists Discover ‘Anti-Arthritis’ Protein”. Such a headline pulls in the reader thinking that a cure for RA is just around the corner. However, such a response is much too premature and all too common when reading about research being conducted on autoimmune diseases. The researchers found a protein called PTP1B was linked to autoimmunity processes. As with most initial studies, the first part of the research was conducted with mice and results don’t always extrapolate to people. These researchers did, however, follow-up with examining RA patients in a clinic. This protein is not newly discovered as scientists connected it to metabolism and insulin years ago. The PTP1B protein is also connected to B cell activating factor (BAFF) which scientists implicated in RA processes and connect to tumor necrosis factor (TNF) which has been the target of many RA treatments for years.
Personally, the most interesting part of this research is the role of B cells in rheumatoid arthritis since I am currently taking Rituximab which reduces the B cells in the body. In reporting the results on the university website, the scientists noted the potential role of Rituxamab in impacting the PTP1B protein in the following statement,
“The B-cells produced after the Rituximab therapy possess similar amount of the PTP1B protein as cells in healthy people. This may contribute to the less severe autoimmune reaction.”
While this research is interesting in terms of potential interest of determining why Rituxan works to treat RA, there remains much speculation about the biochemical processes involved and new treatments based on the role of the PTP1B protein remain hypothetical and likely many years away. As one of the scientists stated,
“Finding out how the protein works was an important discovery, but it doesn’t come with a solution to help heal arthritis, Michael Reth said. For that, scientists would need to artificially stimulate the PTP1B protein, and they are yet to find a simple way to do that.”