UCSD Spinoff NexDx Aims to Diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis

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sensitivity needed at an early stage to differentiate RA from osteoarthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and other autoimmune diseases.

In epigenetics studies of the inflammation-producing cells lining the joints of RA patients, Firestein’s team identified distinctive DNA patterns known as methylation biomarkers that could serve as a reliable test for RA in a blood sample.

Epigenetics refers to modifications to an individual’s DNA that affect gene expression without altering the order or sequence of the DNA. (Epigenetics helps to explain why a disease like RA might strike one genetically identical twin but not the other.) NexDx says such modifications can play an important role in determining disease susceptibility and severity, as well as a patient’s response to therapeutic drugs.

In a statement from the company, Dr. Firestein says, “With early diagnosis, physicians might be able to aggressively treat rheumatoid arthritis earlier than now possible and personalize therapy to minimize or halt disease progression.” In just-released RA treatment guidelines, the American College of Rheumatology says early aggressive therapy helps preserve the RA patient’s physical function, quality of life, and capacity to work.

In addition to developing a diagnostic test, NexDx plans to scrutinize aberrant DNA methylation signatures in search of potential drug targets for biopharmaceutical company partners.

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