Imagine that one day your immune system, which has always cared for you, suddenly becomes a foe, causing you pain.
That’s exactly what happens to someone with an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The immune system initiates and propagates the creation of cells that attack one’s own body, causing inflammation and pain, particularly in the hands, wrists and feet.
Janus kinase (JAK) enzymes play a critical role in the body by transmitting messages from the outside to the inside of cells. In the immune system, these JAK-dependent messages are essential to fight infection but a malfunction can also play a role in the generation of autoimmune disease.1
“Patients with RA have autoreactive immune cells, which means the cells turn against their body,” explains Lisa Olson, vice president, immunology research, AbbVie. “In these cells, JAK enzymes transmit signals that leads to the immune system’s attack on their own joints.”
Stopping unhealthy signaling
With a greater understanding of the role JAK enzymes play in autoimmune diseases, researchers examined ways to stop the unhealthy JAK signaling by creating inhibitors that interrupt the transmission of these faulty signals.
“JAK inhibitors are a special class of small molecules that lower JAK enzyme activity,” says Neil Wishart, discovery co-leader, research and development, AbbVie.