Researchers report in Nature Genetics that they have increased the number of confirmed genes linked to juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) from 3 to 17 – a finding that will clarify how JIA fits into the spectrum of autoimmune disorders and help identify potential treatment targets. Published online on April 21, 2013, the study involves an international research team that analyzed 2,816 JIA cases recruited from more than 40 pediatric rheumatology clinics. It was the largest collaborative patient population of JIA to date, including patient DNA samples from across the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, according to Susan Thompson, Ph.D., a researcher in the Division of Rheumatology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center who was a leader for the study. "These findings will help us understand how the long suspected genetic contributions to JIA are driving the disease process, with the ultimate goal being earlier and improved diagnosis and treatment," Dr. Thompson said. JIA is the most common rheumatic disease of childhood that involves several different but related forms. Affecting some 50,000 children in the US, the actual cause of the disease remains unknown. JIA is considered an autoimmune disorder, in which the body's immune system mounts an attack against its own healthy tissues. JIA can be treated with medications and physical therapy, but the disease can persist for many patients into adulthood. Prior to the current study only three genes were associated with known JIA risk, although scientists have suspected the likelihood that more genes are involved. The research team used what is known as the Immunochip array to measure variation in the genes (DNA) coding for components of the immune system for 2,816 JIA patients in the study.
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