Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist Judith James, M.D., Ph.D.

The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and the Oklahoma Blood Institute have joined forces to combat rheumatoid arthritis.
The institutes will utilize OBI’s new software system, Bio-Linked, to match willing blood donors with researchers at OMRF to build a volunteer group for StopRA, an innovative U.S.-based prevention trial for rheumatoid arthritis, which is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, through their Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence program.
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a chronic illness characterized by inflammation of the lining of the joints. The symptoms include pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, and ultimately the disease can result in loss of function and disability. While little is known about how RA develops, studies show some people at risk for the disease can be identified through testing for an autoantibody called ‘anti-CCP.’
“We know that individuals with this protein in their blood are at a higher risk,” said Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., StopRA investigator, OMRF’s Vice President of Clinical Affairs and chair of the foundation’s Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Research Program. “But we didn’t know how we could screen a large number of healthy individuals to see if they’re walking around with this risk factor to address the disease before it develops. That led to this beautiful partnership with OBI.”
OBI’s Bio-Linked initiative has made this early screening possible. Unveiled in late 2016, Bio-Linked is a unique software system in which OBI’s generous blood donors are matched with medical research projects like StopRA.
“This was created because we know there is a great need for people who are willing to participate in research,” said OBI Vice President of Quality Management and New Business Ventures Charles Mooney. “Our blood donors are the perfect people to recruit to do research because they are responsive, they care and they are willing to step up to do what needs to be done.”
This partnership allows blood donors to sign up to have some of their extra serum submitted as blinded or de-identified samples to be tested for specific antibodies associated with RA. If they test positive for the CCP antibody, OMRF will contact OBI, who will reach out to the donors with more information about the study.
In the first 6 weeks of the new arrangement between OBI and OMRF, more than 3,000 people agreed to have their blood tested for the anti-CCP antibody. Out of that group, about 40 people had the risk factor and were contacted by OBI. Nearly all of them subsequently contacted OMRF to inquire about the trial.
James said the goal of the trial is to assess whether early treatment can prevent these individuals from ever becoming RA patients.
Coming off the promising initial response, OMRF and OBI are working to secure funding for another round of screening.
“It is enormously rewarding for the Oklahoma Blood Institute to partner with Dr. James and OMRF in their valuable rheumatoid arthritis research,” said OBI President and CEO John Armitage, M.D. “Our donors have always been amazingly generous in giving blood to care for patients, but through this study, they are helping find ways to prevent disease symptoms from ever appearing in people with risk factors. This is a perfect public health collaboration whereby our healthy and willing volunteers are matched with brilliant scientists looking for people to help them unlock new medical treatments.”
If you are interested in participating in StopRA or would like more information, please call (405) 271-7221 or email Virginia-roberts@omrf.org. For more information on OBI’s Bio-Linked initiative, visit Bio-Linked.org.
“Preventing this disease from taking off would be life-changing not only for the individuals, but also their friends and families,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “This powerful partnership positions us to do something about it.”