Friday Faculty Focus: James O’Dell

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April 28th, 2017

Dr. James O’Dell poses for a photo. (Photo by Brandon McDermott)

On this week’s episode of Friday Faculty Focus, KVNO’s Brandon McDermott sits down with the Vice Chair of Internal Medicine and Chief of the Division of Rheumatology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Dr. James O’Dell. They discuss a medicine Dr. O’Dell had a hand in researching to treat rheumatoid arthritis and a new study where he will focus on potential treatments for Gout.


Brandon McDermott: Dr. James O’Dell thanks for coming on the show.

Dr. James O’Dell: Thank you for having me.

Brandon: Can you explain your research in rheumatoid arthritis to those who may not be familiar with it?

Dr. O’Dell: Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common, crippling arthritis that people know about it. About one percent of the population has rheumatoid arthritis and it disproportionately affects women. So, the cocktail that we came up with were drugs like methotrexate, sulfasalazine and hydroxychloroquine – the names aren’t particularly important. That combination is called triple therapy and it’s used all over the world now for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, as the most effective way to treat rheumatoid arthritis without using the newer biologic drugs.

Brandon: How about some of the symptoms that people with rheumatoid arthritis would have -what are some of the effects after the disease has kind of taken place?

Dr. O’Dell: When it affects the hands and the feet, it stretches the tendons and ligaments around the joints because there’s too much swelling in the joint areas. That swelling stretches those tendons and ligaments. Then, it’s kind of like an old sweater, that sweater never goes back to that original size. If those ligaments don’t go back to their original size, the joints then become deformed, the fingers go off in crooked directions and they’re bent in funny angles.

If we allow that to happen for a long period of time, then we will get these deformities and then of course those deformities have joint pain and disability that go along with it. But very importantly, rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease so these joints are inflamed and swollen, but that inflammation is bad for everything in your body and it’s particularly bad for your blood vessels. So people with rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory diseases die prematurely from coronary artery disease or strokes. Treating the disease effectively prevents that, as well.

Brandon: How about the new national study that you’re working on with the V.A. this month regarding gout?

Dr. O’Dell: Gout is the most common disease now in Americans that that causes joint problems, after osteoarthritis – the most common inflammatory disease. Four percent of the US population has gout that has doubled in the last 30 years. There’s an epidemic of gout. Gout is the most painful chronic disease there is. You see these pictures of all these people with gout –swollen feet up in the air. You read about the Revolutionary War and everybody was always suffering from gout, Ben Franklin was one of the more famous sufferers.

In those days there wasn’t much you could do. Nowadays, we have wonderful treatments for gout. But, the treatments we have for gout have never really been compared against each other. This will be the world’s largest gout study ever. We will be enrolling a thousand patients in this big study comparing two different therapies for gout and how we apply those therapies.

Brandon: What do you tell students or who come up to you and say “Dr. O’Dell, I’m really interested in getting into medical research!” How would you respond to him or her?

Dr. O’Dell: Research is only for a fairly select few of those students because it takes a lot of persistence and there are often a lot of frustrations either in funding or in projects. So, I talk to them about the importance of finding the right mentor. I talk to them about the importance of asking important questions. At the end of the day, are you going to address in a question that’s really important for patients? That seems like a very trivial thing, but it’s very important to focus on that right from the beginning.

Brandon: Dr. James O’Dell, thanks for coming on the show.

Dr. O’Dell: Thank you very much for having me, Brandon.

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