Cure For Rheumatoid Arthritis?

arthritis sufferer
For Marion Selfe, the simplest tasks are beyond her grasp.

For thirty-five years rheumatoid arthritis has been ravaging her joints, rendering her wrists useless, her elbows inflexible. So far drugs have offered little relief. But now there is real hope for Marion and for millions of others, reports CBS News Correspondent Jeffrey Kofman.

A team of British researchers is in Philadelphia this week, to announce what appears to be a major advance in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis -- the first evidence of a safe and effective cure.

The scientists believe they have finally discovered what causes rheumatoid arthritis: so-called B-cells, or white blood cells that accidentally attack healthy tissues.

In tests, a single treatment with the new drug wipes out the destructive B cells.

Prof. Jonathan Edwards of University College in London say says the drugs have caused "differences so large, something very dramatic is happening."

Researchers have treated twenty patients so far. Some have had rheumatoid arthritis for more than twenty years. Most have been able to return to normal lives. Only two saw no benefit at all.

Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of the disease. It affects more than two million Americans, most of whom are women.

Dr. John Klippel, of the Arthritis Foundation, has seen the study and he is excited.

He says, "What's being described here is significant improvement that we really don't see with any of the other available therapies."

Doctors caution it will be five years before the drugs are the market -- but they say this could mark the beginning of the end for a debilitating disease.