Protein Measured by a Blood Test Marks Joint Erosions in Arthritis

At Europe’s premier arthritis congress, the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) last week in Berlin, researchers presented findings that a protein measurable in blood named 14-3-3η, marks the presence of joint damage in two different forms of arthritis, rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis.

Joint erosion, which can only be detected by x-rays or with advanced imaging techniques such as MRI or ultrasound once damage has occurred, is what leads to physical disability in arthritis. The 14-3-3η protein was found to be elevated in patients with joint erosions in both rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, two conditions which can be effectively treated to reduce joint damage progression, especially if diagnosed early. 14-3-3η’s association with joint damage and its ease of measurement through a simple blood test makes it a very interesting marker to investigate as an indicator of joint damage, possibly even before erosions are visible on x-rays.

Dr. Paul-Peter Tak, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology at the Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, was the senior author of one of the studies which showed that a positive blood test for 14-3-3η in psoriatic arthritis translates into a 10 times greater odds of having joint erosions than if a patient is negative for the biomarker. Patients with joint erosions in general have more aggressive disease and therefore it is critical to identify them for appropriate treatment as soon as possible; something 14-3-3η can assist with.

The 14-3-3η test is developed by Augurex Life Sciences Corp, a Canadian biotechnology company that has been studying the protein biomarker for several years in collaboration with arthritis specialists worldwide. Dr. Anthony Marotta, Chief Scientific Officer of Augurex says, “This data layers on nicely to results that were presented at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) conference in November 2011 describing 14-3-3η as a new rheumatoid arthritis diagnostic test that increases the diagnosis rate in combination with two other routine blood tests, RF and anti-CCP. Beyond identifying who has the disease, this new data sheds light on how the levels of the protein can assist in the clinical management of patients which helps direct our future research.”

Dr. Philip Mease, Clinical Professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and Director of the Rheumatology Clinical Research Division of Swedish Medical Center says ” This new data for 14-3-3η in psoriatic arthritis is very interesting because it represents a biomarker that is differentially expressed in a more severe group of patients. Having biomarkers that help profile and stratify patients into different categories can assist rheumatologists in making clinical decisions that improve patient outcome.” Dr. Mease is also a faculty member of The Rheumatology Education Group (TREG) which provides resources to educate rheumatologists on recent advancements in the field. “TREG has selected the 14-3-3η biomarker data as one of the studies it will highlight when we educate rheumatologists in the US about the proceedings of the EULAR meeting in Berlin”, said Dr. Mease.

The 14-3-3η blood test will be available in the United States first with launches planned in Europe and Asia in 2013. In combination with standard blood tests, 14-3-3η is expected to improve the early diagnosis rate of rheumatoid arthritis by 20% which will assist in the identification of patients for early and appropriate treatment rather than a delayed diagnosis by which time the disease may be more progressed and harder to treat.