Srinagar: Scientists in the United States have discovered a link between rheumatoid arthritis and bacteria found in cow milk and Kashmir-born doctor has played a lead role in the breakthrough.
The doctor, Shazia Bég and her team at University of Central Florida (UCF) in the United States have discovered a link between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (or MAP), a bacteria found in about half the cows in the United States (US).
“The bacteria can be spread to humans through the consumption of infected milk, beef and produce fertilized by cow manure,” reveals the study published this week in a leading journal ‘Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology’.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic autoimmune disorder that is characterized by chronic inflammation of the joints, with eventual erosive changes and joint deformities. RA affects approximately 1 percent of the world population, as per studies done by Lawrence (1961) and Malaviya et al (1993).
A research conducted by Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Soura in 2013 has also revealed an increase in RA cases in Kashmir during last two decades.
“The UCF researchers are the first to report this connection between MAP and rheumatoid arthritis in the study,” reads a statement released by the UCF College of Medicine on Tuesday.
It said the study, funded in part by a $ 500,000 grant from the Florida Legislative, was a collaboration between UCF infectious disease specialist Dr Saleh Naser, rheumotologist at UCF’s physician practice Dr Shazia Bég, and a biomedical sciences doctoral candidate at the medical school Robert Sharp.
For the study, Dr Bég recruited 100 of her patients who volunteered serum samples for testing. Seventy-eight percent of the patients with rheumatoid arthritis were found to have a mutation in the PTPN2/22 gene, the same genetic mutation found in Crohn’s patients, and 40 percent of that number tested positive for MAP.
“We don’t know the cause of rheumatoid arthritis, so we’re excited that we have found this association,” Dr Bég said. “But there is still a long way to go. We need to find out why MAP is more predominant in these patients – whether it’s present because they have RA, or whether it caused RA in these patients. If we find that out, then we can target treatment toward the MAP bacteria.”
Born in Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Dr Bég, a board-certified rheumatologist, has been with UCF since 2011 after completing her fellowship in rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. In addition to practicing medicine at UCF Health, she is a full-time faculty member at the college.