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Schneider pediatrician gets $450,000 for arthritis study

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A pediatrician at Schneider Children’s Hospital in Glen Oaks has received a $450,000 grant from the Arthritis Foundation to head the most aggressive study of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis undertaken in North America, Long Island Jewish Health System announced.

Dr. Beth Gottlieb said the grant would enable her to monitor about 1,000 JRA patients over five years, collecting data on both the disease’s behavior and its response to medications.

“This is going to be the largest collection of JRA patients in North America,” Gottlieb said in an interview. “This will give us information that will tell us which children need to be treated earlier and more aggressively, and which medicines are better for which group of children, so we don’t waste time with things that are inferior. This will help pediatric rheumatologists across the world to determine which treatments are best.”

Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder in which the body attacks its own joints, causing painful inflammation and swelling. In children, the disease presents even more of a challenge to doctors. JRA sufferers are sometimes unable to bend a joint, which can result in loss of muscle strength or growth delays, Gottlieb explained.

JRA is generally treated with anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, but a new group of drugs known as biologic response modifiers — cancer drugs that have been adapted for use against arthritis — have recently opened a new front in the war against the disease.

About 90,000 children in the United States suffer from JRA, Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb will enroll about 500 children in the study, coordinating data collection on their conditions and treatments through 20 research centers across the United States and Canada. She also hopes to include about 475 JRA patients who were the subjects of a previous study in the late 1990s before funding ran out.

The pediatrician, who holds a medical degree from Tel Aviv’s Sackler School of Medicine and a master’s in clinical research methods from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, has been working with JRA patients since 1995. Her study proposal was one of only 100 selected for funding by the Arthritis Foundation, out of a total of 500 received in her specialty area (????), the organization’s vice president for research, Debbie McCoy, said.

Although the grant from the Arthritis Foundation lasts for five years, Gottlieb said she hopes to apply for additional funding so that she can follow the patients for 20 years.

Data on JRA collected over such a period is sorely lacking, Gottlieb said.

“There are questions we can’t answer for parents,” she said. “Parents inevitably ask, ‘Will this go away?’ and we don’t have the answers because we don’t have good recent data.”

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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