An unusual collaboration of physicists and medical researchers has uncovered a “highly significant” correlation between periodic solar storms and incidences of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and giant cell arteritis (GCA), 2 potentially debilitating autoimmune diseases. If a causal link can be established, the discovery could lead to the development of new therapeutic and prophylactic measures, according to the authors, who published their findings in the May edition of BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal). Leading the study were the husband and wife team of Simon Wing, a Johns Hopkins University physicist, and Lisa Rider, deputy unit chief of the Environmental Autoimmunity Group at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the National Institutes of Health. Rider had observed data from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, showing that cases of RA and GCA closely followed 10-year cycles, and surmised that of the few natural events having such a periodicity are solar storms.
Teaming with researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, the pair found incidents of RA and GCA to be in periodic accord with the cycle of magnetic activity of the sun, and noted the degree of correlation was “more than a coincidental connection.” Confirming a causal link between outbreaks of RA and GCA and geomagnetic activity would be an important step towards developing strategies for mitigating the impact of the activity on susceptible individuals. These could include relocating to lower latitudes and developing methods to counteract direct causal agents that may be controlled by geomagnetic activity. For now, say the authors, their findings warrant further investigations covering longer time periods, additional locations, and other autoimmune diseases.
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