Small-scale trials of a new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis are giving encouraging results, announced a team from University College London at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology this week. The announcement sparked intense media interest, prompting rheumatologists to warn that the treatment is only in its infancy and should not be considered a 'cure'.

The treatment involves the use of the drug rituximab, which attaches to a protein on the surface of B cells and suppresses their activity. The drug is effective at killing mutated B cells that attack the body's healthy tissues, damaging joints and causing the symptoms of arthritis. Once these lymphocytes have been cleared out, fresh B cells are produced to replace them. The chance of new B cells also being genetically mutated is very small, according to Professor Jonathan Edwards, who led the study.

Suppression of the immune system could be a drawback...

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