Autoimmune conditions are rising and costing the UK over £13 billion each year, a report launched today has revealed.
Connect Immune Research, a collaboration between three medical research charities, JDRF, MS Society and Versus Arthritis, supported by the British Society for Immunology, issued the report to highlight the need for greater recognition and investment for autoimmune conditions as a distinct research area, alongside the likes of cancer, infectious disease and dementia.
There are more than 80 autoimmune conditions known to science and some conditions are increasing in incidence by as much as 9% each year.
It is not known what is causing autoimmune conditions to rise, which is why the Connect Immune Research project is campaigning for change in the way research is approached.
There are four million people in the UK known to be living with at least one autoimmune condition, but as the Connect Immune Research report highlights, people often live with more than one autoimmune condition.
Chloe Gillum, 25, is a paediatric nurse who lives with three autoimmune conditions. At the age of nine she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and went on to develop vitiligo and an underactive thyroid, which caused secondary Raynaud’s. The autoimmune conditions all need daily medication which requires management, patience and discipline, but as Chloe explains: “One of the hardest things about living with autoimmune conditions is people not understanding the impact this has on my life.”
More detail on Chloe’s experiences with each condition can be found in the report.
People living with autoimmune conditions from across the UK will attend the launch of the #AutoimmuneAware report in Parliament today. Members of Parliament will also be in attendance, and will be encouraged to support research into the conditions.
Karen Addington, UK Chief Executive of JDRF, said: “This alarming and unexplained rise in autoimmune conditions among the UK population must be confronted. These conditions are causing pain, difficulty and lost opportunities in work and life.”
Dr Doug Brown, Chief Executive of the British Society for Immunology said:“The UK is a world leader in immunology research and we must ensure this excellence is reflected in the therapies that we can provide to patients in the clinic. The past decade has seen significant and exciting advances in our knowledge of how the immune system functions, highlighting new research avenues that we can explore to improve diagnosis, treatment and even prevention of autoimmune diseases.
“With the current rise in the number of people living with autoimmune conditions, Connect Immune Research aims to bring together researchers and funders who work on these different conditions to pool knowledge, exploiting the UK’s strength in this area, which we hope will lead to us transforming the lives of people living with autoimmune conditions.”
Genevieve Edwards, Director of External Affairs at the MS Society, said: “By collaborating in this way and linking world-class researchers together, we believe we can transform the lives of people living with autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis – which alone affects over 100,000 people in the UK.
“Driving research forward is essential if we’re to make the scientific discoveries so vitally needed in autoimmunity. That’s why we need the UK government to offer their support, and recognise this as a distinct area of research science – much like cancer, infectious disease, and dementia. Around four million people in the UK have an autoimmune condition and we must find a way to prevent that figure from escalating.”
Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Research at Versus Arthritis, said: “We know that there are over 400,000 people in the UK living with rheumatoid arthritis. The pain and fatigue caused by arthritis can significantly impact a person’s ability to move freely– making it difficult for them to travel to work, care for their family or get dressed.
“The immune system continues to intrigue us and as we get closer to finding ways of moderating its response in inflammatory arthritis, new and unexpected challenges emerge. This is why it’s important for charities and scientists to come together in this way and look at autoimmune conditions collectively, as well as focusing on specific conditions. By working together and sharing expertise, we can ramp up our understanding and address questions not only relevant to people with arthritis but for those living with other autoimmune conditions, such as MS and type 1 diabetes.”