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High rate of rheumatoid arthritis among American Indians prompts research partnership

The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation is partnering with the Cherokee Nation and Chickasaw Nation to provide rheumatology care to tribal clinics while also helping scientists better understand the role that race might play in rheumatoid arthritis and related diseases.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: December 18, 2012

Oklahoma researchers and tribal clinic doctors are together to combat a disease that affects a high rate of American Indians.

Researchers at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have formed a partnership with doctors at Chickasaw Nation and Cherokee Nation clinics to provide care for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

At the same time, the medical foundation enrolls patients at the clinic in research that helps them better understand, for example, why four times as many American Indians are affected by rheumatoid arthritis than those of European ancestry.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in a person's joints, according to the National Institutes of Health. It affects an estimated 1.5 million adults.

Dr. Judith James, a scientist at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, has been going to the Chickasaw and Cherokee clinics for about seven years.

So far, about 200 tribe members with rheumatic diseases and 200 healthy control subjects have been enrolled in research about rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. Through the partnership, James and her fellow doctors and researchers have created new screening techniques for diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis.

“By raising awareness about rheumatic diseases in our tribal members, I think that has helped not just the providers in the clinics but also all of the staff and pharmacists and everybody understand that the rheumatic diseases are really common in our tribal members, and it is helping them find ways to get access to the resources they need to treat their diseases,” James said.

It's harder to diagnose American Indian patients with these diseases. That's because the typical blood test often times doesn't work to diagnose American Indian patients.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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