Why choose RA pregnancy as our field of research?

 

The fact that RA can improve naturally during pregnancy is a huge deal. Even if it does not happen in ALL women, still, it does happen! And when it does, it is regarded like a miracle of nature … These observations made me wonder: If we could mimic the beneficial effects of pregnancy on RA, would we be able to treat RA with minimal side-effects or even cure the disease? Given that currently available medications have serious side effects, mimicking the effect of pregnancy to alleviate RA symptoms would be highly advantageous. Unfortunately, why RA improves (or gets worse) during pregnancy, and why it flares after child-birth, is still unknown. Although hormonal changes during pregnancy may seem to be an obvious benefactor, they do not explain why RA improves in many, but not all, women with RA. Nor do increased levels of cortisol as Dr. Hench had thought.

Not much is known about what happens during pregnancy in RA. This field of research has not been thoroughly explored. As it turns out, finding women with RA to participate in pregnancy research has been an especially difficult task, not because they did not want to participate, but because researchers did not know how to find them in large enough numbers for research results to be meaningful. On top of that, research participants would need to be enrolled before pregnancy so that changes occurring from “before” to “during” pregnancy can be observed and understood – and that has been an even more daunting task!

This was all the more reason to start my research in this area. On the one hand, there was a high risk that enrolling women in a study at the pre-pregnancy stage could be extremely difficult, if not impossible; this would not be good for my scientific career. On the other hand, I chose to be in the field of RA research because I wanted to help people who, once affected with RA, bear the painful consequences of this disease for life. Should it not be our moral obligation to seize the opportunity to solve this mystery (of why RA improves during pregnancy) – or at least try our best – if doing so meant that we could uncover new knowledge that could potentially give people with RA a more comfortable life? Well, it wasn't a hard choice. And a good challenge is always welcome :)