If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Dr. Salah Ahmed’s research project may be just your cup of (green) tea! Dr. Ahmed’s 2014 Innovative Research Grant project, “Mechanism of Mcl-1 regulation in RA by EGCG”, looked at the effects of an anti-inflammatory molecule found in green tea (epigallocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG) on a protein (Mcl-1) found in RA joints.
In joints with RA, specialized cells called synovial fibroblasts (FLS) get activated, grow, and proliferate, requiring increasing space within the joint. The FLS produce proteins that cause inflammation and destroy the bones and cartilage within a joint.
Normally, cells are programmed to die after they serve their purpose and are cleared away by other cells in the body. However, FLS produce a protein called Mcl-1 that stops the process of natural cell death (called apoptosis), causing the FLS to become “immortal”.
Dr. Ahmed and his team have found that ECGC can modify the Mcl-1 protein, allowing FLS to undergo the normal cell death. In effect, this may delay or reduce the further development of RA.
“This may not be a cure – we don’t know that yet,” explained Dr. Ahmed. “but ECGC may offer an option that can be easily consumed or taken as a supplement which may complement or help other medicines work better.”
While no drug-interaction studies have been done with ECGC and currently approved biologics yet, Dr. Ahmed is encouraged by the results obtained by his team thus far.
The team is continuing their work in looking at naturally occurring molecules that modify the effects of Mcl-1. They recently received funding from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases to look at a molecule in fruits that may work in ways like ECGC in restoring the natural cell death process in FLS.
Dr. Ahmed, a trained pharmacologist who studies inflammation, has always been interested in complementary and alternative medicine approaches and identifying new therapeutic targets for the treatment of RA. He explained his interest in this project: “Although the currently available biological therapies have filled a significant gap in the treatment of RA, there is currently no cure for this disease that impacts roughly 1% of the world population. In addition, the current therapies provide relief for symptoms, are expensive, and may cause severe side effects. This provides us an opportunity to develop new compounds that could potentially be less expensive and are safer for long-term use.”
Dr. Ahmed is grateful to the Arthritis Foundation for providing funding for his innovative research. He is an associate professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences at Washington State University in Spokane.
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