Autoimmune diseases stretch far back into the history of humans. Related illnesses even exist in nonhuman primates, such as the baboon model of Chaga's disease. Treatments for human autoimmune diseases have also been around for ages, or at least centuries. In the late 1600s, physicians treated RA with Peruvian bark, which contains quinine. A century later, physicians added willow bark to the arthritis arsenal; it contains salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. Clinicians also started treating other autoimmune diseases more than a century ago; in the late 1800s, quinine and salicylates were used to treat lupus.

Over the years, other therapies emerged. In 1929, physicians injected gold compounds into patients with RA; these intramuscular injections remained in vogue until the 1990s. Long before that, though, other treatments proved useful. By the middle of the 20th century, scientists discovered the anti-inflammatory capabilities of corticosteroids, which are...

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