SNOWMASS, COLO. (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Rheumatologists who use musculoskeletal ultrasound to help guide a treat-to-target strategy in early rheumatoid arthritis may want to reconsider that practice in light of the results of a recent randomized trial known as the TaSER study, Michael E. Weinblatt, MD, observed at the Winter Rheumatology Symposium sponsored by the American College of Rheumatology.

In TaSER, Scottish investigators randomized 111 newly diagnosed early rheumatoid arthritis patients to an intensive treat-to-target strategy guided by 28-joint Disease Activity Score with erythrocyte sedimentation rate (DAS28-ESR) alone or in conjunction with musculoskeletal ultrasound assessment of disease activity in a limited joint set.

Outcomes were assessed every 3 months during 18 months of follow-up. Treatment was identical in both groups for the first 3 months. After that, treatment was escalated in standardized fashion in individuals who hadn’t achieved their appropriate target, which was a DAS28-ESR score of less than 3.2 in the control group or a DAS28-ESR below 3.2 plus a total power Doppler joint count no greater than one in the intervention arm.

The stepped treatment escalation regimen began with methotrexate monotherapy, followed by the addition of sulfasalazine and hydroxychloroquine to methotrexate as triple therapy, then etanercept plus triple therapy.

The primary outcome was improvement in DAS44 at 18 months. Both groups experienced similarly robust improvements: a mean 2.69-point reduction in the ultrasound group and a 2.59-point decrease in the control arm. Nor were there any between-group differences in radiographic or MRI erosions. This was the case even though the ultrasound group received more intensive therapy ( Ann Rheum Dis. 2016 Jun;75[6]:1043-50 ).

“This doesn’t mean that there’s not great value in ultrasound to evaluate disease activity, but I’m not convinced that using ultrasound to guide your treatment per se shows any advantages over a good clinical evaluation of the patient,” concluded Dr. Weinblatt, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

He reported receiving research grants from half a dozen companies and serving as a consultant to more than two dozen.


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