The University Record, October 22, 1996

Fund raising benefits arthritis research


By Jared Blank


Do you know somebody who suffers from some form of arthritis? According to a recent survey conducted by the Washtenaw County Health Improvement Plan, chances are pretty good that you are acquainted with someone who lives with the pain associated with the disease---38 percent of Washtenaw County households polled reported that somebody in their home was being treated for the disease.

The Arthritis Foundation, one of the 17 health agencies that comprise the Combined Health Appeal of Michigan, a partner with Washtenaw United Way, reports that one in seven people of all ages across the country are afflicted with arthritis. Arthritis refers to more than 100 different rheumatic diseases that cause pain, swelling and limited movement in joints and connective tissue throughout the body. Some forms of the disease even affect the skin and vital organs.

U-M researcher Leslie J. Crofford studies rheumatoid arthritis, a form of the disease that affects the lining of joints and which afflicts 2.1 million Americans, most of whom are women. Crofford is conducting research funded by the Arthritis Foundation to study prostaglandins, substances produced in the joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis that cause the heat, redness and swelling characteristic of the disease. The substances are also responsible for maintaining the normal function of the stomach and kidneys. Aspirin acts to block the substances, which leads to an improvement in the heat, redness and swelling, but also can cause stomach pain. Crofford is researching prostaglandins to determine what part of the substances cause joint pain and what part protects the stomach and kidneys. With this information, she says, a better aspirin could be created that would block the pain, but not affect the stomach.

Crofford says that the Arthritis Foundation's support is critical in the fight to combat arthritis. "The Foundation puts a lot of its resources into supporting the physician scientists who conduct this type of research," she notes. "I started studying rheumatoid arthritis because of a favorite aunt who suffered from the disease. It really has a significant impact on your job, family and your whole life."

The Ann Arbor Region of the Arthritis Foundation facilitates many programs and fund-raising events to support arthritis research and quality-of-life programs for those suffering from the disease. The Ann Arbor Region is the only office in the state to offer Joint Efforts, a Foundation-created program of gentle exercise for seniors that is offered free at nine Washtenaw County senior sites.

In addition, the annual Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis, planned this year for Dec. 8, is a fundraiser for which walkers, runners and teams gather pledges, dress up in holiday garb and gallop through Gallup Park.

Rita Combest, executive director of the Ann Arbor Region of the Arthritis Foundation, says that 27 percent of the dollars raised by the Foundation is spent on research, and much of that research is conducted at the U-M. "As executive director of the Ann Arbor Region," she says, "I find it both exciting and rewarding that the funds we raise are channeled directly back into our local community through patient support and education programs, and through our support of the various research projects currently being conducted at the U-M."

For more information about local Arthritis Foundation activities and programs, call 572-3224.

The University's $1 million United Way campaign continues through the end of October. As of Oct. 18, the U-M campaign has raised $474,951.