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Developing a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis

Professor Ranjeny Thomas' natural creativity and love of a good mystery led her to a career in research, where she is developing a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis—a disease that affects more than 450,000 Australians, causing pain, inflammation and deformity of the joints.

Professor Ranjeny Thomas

Professor Ranjeny Thomas.

Ranjeny is Professor of Rheumatology at The University of Queensland (UQ), head of the Autoimmunity Division at the UQ Diamantina Institute, and the Arthritis Queensland Chair of Rheumatology. She is also founder and a director of Dendright—a startup company of UniQuest, UQ’s commercialisation company—which is working to translate this research into commercial products.

Ranjeny wanted to find out what was causing the immune system to turn on benign tissues in the body, triggering rheumatoid arthritis. This followed her crucial discovery, while working at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, that certain cells were mistaking joint tissue as 'foreign'.

After returning to Australia, Ranjeny reasoned that if these cells—Dendritic cells—were part of the problem, then perhaps they could become part of the solution. She and her colleagues then discovered a protein that acts as the switch that causes the cells to teach the immune system to attack. This led them to find a way to modify the cells to silence the immune system.

Ranjeny's goal to then find a way to use the cells in a therapy for rheumatoid arthritis eventually led to the development of a vaccine technology which turns off the unwanted immune response.

In 2005 she founded Dendright to concentrate on developing the technology commercially, and in 2013 Dendright partnered with a global pharmaceutical company with a significant interest in rheumatoid arthritis, to help achieve this.

They are working in partnership to develop the innovative therapy through to a Phase I clinical trial in Australia.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients can contact Daniel Lim, Research Administration Officer on (07) 3443 6992 for further information on possible participation in clinical studies.

Further information

Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia (CC BY-ND 3.0)
Last updated
18 July, 2017

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