Arthritis discovery

The use of steroids could benefit thousands of arthritis sufferers, according to the results of an Pounds 85,000 research and clinical trial programme at Bristol University.

In the 1950s, high doses of steroids were used to treat the symptoms of advanced rheumatoid arthritis. This approach was abandoned because dangerous side-effects emerged.

But John Kirwan of Bristol University's Rheumatology Unit was convinced that low doses of corticosteroids could be effective.

In partnership with Margaret Byron of Stoke Mandeville Hospital, he developed a low-dose strategy and began clinical trials with 128 volunteer patients. Half were given the daily steroid pill, with the remainder receiving a placebo.

After it had been monitored for two years, it emerged that those on the low dose of corticosteroids had less bone and tissue damage. They also found that the underlying disease had been reduced.

"The exciting thing about the result is that we now have the hope of controlling the disease long term," he said. The study was financed by the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council.

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