AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Doctors at AU Health are leading the charge in clinical trials to find treatment options for a rare autoimmune disease.

When our immune systems detect something harmful, they create antibodies.

“Most of the time, these antibodies are good- they protect us from disease and other things,” said Dr. Michael Rivner, a neurologist specializing in neuromuscular disease. “But, in this case, these antibodies are directed against an essential part of the body.”

In myasthenia gravis (MG), these antibodies attack the neuromuscular junction, preventing chemical messengers- called neurotransmitters- from passing through and binding to receptors on our nerve cells.

Because of this blockage, muscles can’t move and people with the disease feel muscle weakness and fatigue. 

“It was a little bit frightening,” said Diana Rutledge, a clinical trial participant who was diagnosed with MG in 2015. “I was driving home and my left eye just kept closing up on me and I couldn’t open it.”

The incurable disease usually affects the eyes first, then other parts of the body are affected. It can also impact speech, swallowing and breathing.  

Dr. Michael Rivner- a neurologist at AU Health and Charbonnier Professor Emeritus of neurology at MCG- treats about 250 patients with the disease. This novel trial looks at the basic mechanism behind this interfering antibody.

“There are some patients that we have a harder time treating,” said Dr. Rivner. “And that’s why we’re doing these trials so that we can treat those patients better.”

AU Health is participating in more than seventy percent of the myasthenia gravis clinical trials in the state of Georgia.

Rutlege says she was overjoyed to be accepted as a participant.

“I was fortunate to start having symptoms of the disease when I was older,” said Rutledge. “But there are so many young people that are affected and that have to live with this their whole life. So anything that I do- that I can do on my end- I really think that I have a responsibility to do that.” 

The therapy used in this trial has the potential to help those with myasthenia gravis regain their function and strength.