Keeping your teeth clean can help you avoid the misery of arthritis flare-ups, a new study suggests.
Bacteria associated with gum disease can exacerbate severe joint pain that exacerbates rheumatoid arthritis when it enters the bloodstream, according to researchers at Rice University in Texas.
Biologist Vicky Yao made the connection when she examined blood samples from patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system attacks healthy cells in the body’s joints, leading to swelling and inflammation. RA can also cause heart, lung, and eye problems.
Computer biologist Vicky Yao (pictured) of Rice University found traces of bacteria associated with periodontitis in samples collected from patients with rheumatoid arthritis
Tracking down the link between gum disease and RA could help develop therapies for the latter, an autoimmune inflammatory disease that attacks the lining of the joints and can cause heart, lung and eye problems
Establishing a link between the oral bacteria and arthritis flare-ups could pave the way for new treatments not just for RA, but for other diseases as well.
Dr. Vicky Yao, Principal Investigator, said: ‘Data collected in experiments from living organisms or cells or tissue cultured in petri dishes are very important to confirm hypotheses, but at the same time these data may contain more information than we can extract directly from it.’
Dr. Yao’s findings were the catalyst for a series of sequential experiments with rheumatologist Dr. Dana Orange and Dr. Bob Darnell, a physician at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Dr. Yao said, “Orange, working with Darnell, collected data from patients with arthritis at regular intervals while also monitoring when the flares occurred.
“The idea was that looking at this data retrospectively would reveal a pattern that would provide clues to what caused the arthritis.”
The study, published in the journal Science Translational medicinefound germs associated with gum disease changed consistently prior to flare-ups.
In addition to informing the treatment of arthritis flare-ups, their research opens the door to developing better therapies for other diseases, such as cancer. The method of monitoring microbes in relation to disease can be useful in learning more about certain cancers.
The team led by Dr Yao found that the germs in the samples that changed consistently in patients prior to flares were largely linked to gum disease.
Dr. Yao explained, “I was curious about this tool that could detect microbes in human samples.
“One of the things that came up when we discussed this was, how cool would it be if you could prescribe some sort of mouthwash to help prevent rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups.”
The breakthrough came about by chance, Dr. Yao said.
“While I was working on that project, I went to a lecture that I thought was really cool because it pointed out that in the data that gets ignored or discarded, you can actually find traces of microbes.
“You look at a human sample, but you get a snapshot of the microbes floating around. I was intrigued by this.’
The discovery of meaningful information in data that would normally be ignored or discarded inspired her to take a similar approach when looking at data from cancer patients.
She said: ‘I got really interested in what else we can find for microbial signatures in human samples.
“Now we’re doing something similar when looking at cancer. The hope here is that if we find some interesting microbial or viral signatures associated with cancer, we can then identify productive experimental directions to pursue.
‘For example, if having a tumor creates a hotbed of specific microbes that we recognize, then perhaps we can use that knowledge as a means of diagnosing the cancer earlier or in a less invasive or costly way.
‘And if experiments confirm a causal link between a certain virus or a specific bacterium and a form of cancer, then that can of course be useful for therapy.’
It is well known that certain microbes cause cancer, such as human papillomavirus and cervical cancer. But for the vast majority of cancers, the relationship is not clear.
Dr. Yao added, “When we did the same exercise where we looked at cervical cancer tumor samples, we consistently detected the virus.
‘I’m really interested in using computational approaches to bridge the gap between available experimental data and ways of interpreting it. Computational analysis is a way to help interpret data and prioritize hypotheses for clinicians or experimental scientists to test.”