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Researchers Get Closer in Treating Arthritis Without Side Effects

Update Date: Jul 04, 2013 05:15 PM EDT

People who suffer from chronic illnesses deal with their conditions on a daily basis. They must remember to take their medications and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Despite being diligent with one's medical routine, drugs treating chronic illnesses often have nasty side effects. For drugs treating arthritis, two of the most dangerous side effects are heart attacks and strokes. In a new study, researchers analyzed ways of lowering these risks by study the biological mechanisms involved in increasing these risks in the first place.

The researchers have known that certain arthritis drugs, Vioxx, diclofenac, ibuprofen and Celebrex all work by blocking the enzyme COX-2. COX-2 is believed to be responsible for the side effects and up until this study, researchers believed that COX-2 was mainly found in blood vessels. In this study, researchers used genetically modified mice that had their COX-2 gene removed in place for a gene called luciferase. Luciferase is the gene responsible for the lighting effect in dragonflies. From this altered mice model, the researchers were able to look at detailed images of COX-2 throughout the body. They found that COX-2 was mostly distributed in the brain, gut, kidney and the thymus gland in the chest.  

"Now we know the true sites of COX-2, we can begin to develop new ideas that will lead to better drugs for arthritis and cancer with fewer side effects," Lead author, Professor Jane Mitchell of Imperial's Faculty of Medicine said according to a press release.

The researchers believe that their findings could provide answers to as how new drugs can be manufactured to lower the risks of side effects by targeting these newly identified regions of COX-2. Current drugs can be too dangerous. In 2004, Vioxx was withdrawn from the market and now, medical experts are recommending people to avoid diclofenac.

"This study does not provide all the answers, but once we understand exactly how COX-2 affects the cardiovascular system we will be in a position to design new therapies. This will not be easy but all the tools are available and we could be looking at new leads within five to ten years," Mitchell said.

"This study is the first to use such sophisticated techniques to determine the locations of COX-2 within the body. The use of mass spectrometry and genetically modified mice in this way represents a significant advance in the field," added co-author, Professor Anna Nicolaou.  

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and it was published in PLOS ONE

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