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Research prize for arthritis professor

The earlier rheumatoid arthritis is detected, the greater the potential for effective treatment. This is researcher Thomas Skogh’s guiding star. Now he has been awarded a research grant of SEK 400,000 from the medical giant Pfizer.

Thomas Skogh“I am extremely happy. It’s an honour to be one of eight Swedish researchers who have received this distinction,” says Skogh, professor of Rheumatology and chief physician at the arthritis clinic at Linköping University Hospital and even a bassist in the Linköping Cathedral Chamber Orchestra.

Even back in his graduate student days at Linköping at the end of the 1970s, he was conducting research into autoimmunity and rheumatic illnesses. He is primarily being awarded for his work with antibodies and their clinical significance.

“Mr. Skogh has produced valuable knowledge of how environmental factors and antibody formation are linked to inflammatory processes during illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and SLE,” says senior lecturer Carl Turesson, scientific secretary of the Swedish Rheumatological Association, which nominates the prizewinners after an international committee evaluation.

Antibodies that circulate in the blood and target what are known as citrullinated proteins (anti-citrullinated protein antibodies, or ACPA) are a strong marker for rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

“Our research has been largely focused on the significance of ACPA and other RA markers for diagnosis and prognosis, and identifying people who will develop the disease as early as possible. The intent is to administer potent medication as soon as RA can be confirmed, or even before the diagnosis can be established with current criteria. In the long term the goal is to prevent the disease,” says Skogh.

In the TIRA (previous efforts in RA) and TIRA 2 projects, Skogh and his colleagues have followed patients with newly developed RA for the last 15 years. The TIRx project, where people who have visited a health centre owing to problems with their musculoskeletal system and who have ACPA in their blood but have not yet developed the illness are intercepted, has just begun.

“There have been major changes during this time. Today’s patients get treatment earlier, and it’s now unusual for people to be disabled by RA,” Skogh says.

The research group’s latest discovery concerns the presence of ACPA in connection with mucus membranes. The group has shown that these antibodies can be measured in saliva, and that they – unlike circulating ACPA – seem to be linked to a milder course of the disease.
A related, but less common illness also being studied by the research group is systemic lupus erythematosus, which can afflict many different organ systems such as the joints, the skin, the kidneys, and the central nervous system.

Skogh received his grant on December 1 at a national medical meeting in Stockholm (Medicinska Riksstämman).

Text: Åke Hjelm


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Last updated: 2012-12-10