Biomedicine Student Studies Relationship between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Depression
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Biomedicine Student Studies Relationship between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Depression

Jacqueline headshotJacqueline Magnarelli ‘25PhD, IRB/IACUC administrator, is turning her own experience into a doctoral research project to determine the relationship between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and depression.

RA is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease in which the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body by mistake, causing inflammation in various affected parts of the body. RA typically attacks joints in the hands, wrists and knees causing long-lasting or chronic pain, unsteadiness and deformity. There is no cure for RA, but medications do help to alleviate symptoms, reduce inflammation and pain, and to slow disease progression. 

“I decided on this research project because of my own experience, and since RA is genetic, many of my family members have it as well,” said Magnarelli. “Before I was medicated, RA affected me badly while I was working on my master’s degree. It would sometimes take me hours to get out of bed because I was so stiff and my joints were so swollen. Typing and writing were challenging because my wrists would swell. Everyday functioning was very difficult.”

As a result of the loss in functionality, Magnarelli understands the mental and emotional toll RA can have on a person. During her treatment process, depression and mental health were not discussed, but she hopes her research study can help to determine if mental health treatment in combination with RA treatment can help to improve patient outcomes. 

Jacqueline in her graduation regaliaThrough her preliminary research, Magnarelli has found that depression very commonly co-occurs with RA. One study, in particular, found it to be the most common comorbidity with RA. Other studies have tried to estimate the prevalence of depression in people with RA and they found it to be as high as about 42%. It has also been shown that those struggling with depression may not respond as well to their RA treatment.

But there is still much more research to be done to determine the relationship between RA and depression, and Magnarelli is excited to continue the progression of information on the topic.

Her study, as of now, will include a quantitative portion that will analyze pre-existing data sets with information on rheumatology patients and the link between RA and depression. Through this, she can analyze the variables and determine what the associations are. The second part of the study will be qualitative where she will interview small groups of rheumatology patients with RA and depression to get a more in-depth look at life experiences and their relation to depression.

Currently in the preliminary stages of her doctorate research, Magnarelli has a long road ahead of her but is embarking on a journey she is passionate and excited about.

“Biologics, which changes RA treatment, didn't really come around till the ‘90s, so the course of treatment is continually evolving. If we learn that things could improve by incorporating mental health treatment, that could significantly help patients. I am personally excited to see how far treatment changes over the course of my lifetime,” she said.