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Faster diagnosis for rheumatoid arthritis patients may prevent chronic disease

Professor of Rheumatology Annette van der Helm's research focuses on the earliest possible detection of rheumatoid arthritis to prevent symptoms from becoming chronic. She has been a Medical Delta Professor since last month, with appointments at the LUMC and Erasmus MC.

Medical Delta is an alliance between Leiden University, the LUMC, TU Delft, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Erasmus MC, four universities of applied sciences in South Holland (University of Applied Sciences Leiden, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and Inholland University of Applied Sciences), government, healthcare organisations and businesses. Medical Delta aims to realise technological solutions for sustainable healthcare.

Introduction to Medical Delta professor Annette van der Helm (in Dutch)

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You have been appointed as a Medical Delta professor. What does this mean to you?

It is a positive reinforcement of an ongoing effort that sometimes needs an extra push. University medical centres (UMC) are individually assessed but progress often requires collaboration. This can be challenging. In our collaboration, one plus one is three. It is a great synergy that is important to convey.

Could you briefly outline your areas of expertise?

I am a rheumatologist. In our research, we focus on how to identify rheumatoid arthritis as early as possible and prevent it from becoming chronic. We have established an early identification pathway at the LUMC, Erasmus MC and surrounding hospitals. People with suspicious pain symptoms are prioritised. With our approach, we can currently identify patients 6 to 12 months earlier than the standard diagnosis.

‘A rheumatologist can feel joint inflammation externally. If this is not detectable, there is currently no diagnosis, and the approach is often “call when it swells”, meaning come back when it gets worse. This can lead to more complaints and people losing their jobs, and, at that later point, processes are often irreversible. This makes it crucial to work towards a rapid diagnosis.

Read the rest of the interview on the Medical Delta website.

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