Sometimes you just have to persist
All epic journeys have to start somewhere, but sometimes the beginning of the road is not so smooth.
When Dr. Ronald van Vollenhoven, a Dutch researcher, arrived at Stanford University in the early 1990s, he was energized by a new challenge.
He’d spent the last several years in a lab at Cornell University studying the immune system, and now he had landed a fellowship that would allow him to apply his knowledge in the real world, treating patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
After his first few weeks of training, Van Vollenhoven realized how difficult the job would be. He was disheartened by how many waiting rooms he saw filled with people experiencing serious pain and crippling joint damage that left them dependent on wheelchairs, crutches or braces.
While doctors and researchers knew quite a bit about rheumatoid arthritis at that time, they still only had a few tools available to help patients.
But changes were on the horizon.
A better option: biologics
By the early 2000s, with the advent of biologic medicines — new, more complex medicines manufactured using living cells — those waiting rooms began to look a lot different.
“There was an incredible change in how rheumatology was practiced and what rheumatology was like in the clinic. It was a very exciting time,” Van Vollenhoven says. “Today, if you walk into a waiting room in a clinic and you look around, on some days you start wondering if the patients came to the right place because they all look so healthy.”
The use of biologics made it possible for doctors to better manage RA patients’ symptoms and even slow down the disease’s progression.
But this transformation in treating RA left Van Vollenhoven and many others thinking: What could be next? How can we do more to get ahead of RA?