The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has awarded Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist Umesh S. Deshmukh, Ph.D., a five-year, $2.14 million grant to investigate the biological origins and development of Sjögren’s syndrome.
Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. In Sjögren’s, the moisture-secreting glands of the eyes and mouth are adversely affected, resulting in dry mouth and dry eyes. Other symptoms include severe fatigue and joint pain.
“While there is currently no known cause for Sjögren’s, certain genes are shown to put individuals at an elevated risk,” said Deshmukh. “However, a triggering mechanism must be present, and I am looking at ways infectious biological agents might trigger the disease.”
As many as 4 million people in the U.S. suffer from Sjögren’s syndrome, and approximately nine out of every 10 patients are women, according to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation. This painful disease often goes undiagnosed for several years, making basic research like Deshmukh’s critical in understanding it and developing better diagnostics and treatments for it.
OMRF scientists will conduct experiments on both mouse models and a large collection of patient samples from the Oklahoma Sjögren’s Syndrome Center of Research Translation (OSSCORT).
“This is truly a unique study, because it integrates mouse research with human clinical research,” said Deshmukh. “This is one reason for the excitement around the project, and it is only possible because of the resources available at OMRF.”
OMRF Vice President of Research Paul Kincade, Ph.D., added, “Dr. Deshmukh is a rising star, and the extremely high ranking he received on this grant is proof of that fact. It’s clear that the research he’s conducting will provide necessary understanding to make progress with Sjögren’s and other debilitating conditions.”
Deshmukh and his wife and colleague Harini Bagavant, Ph.D., were recruited to OMRF from the University of Virginia in 2013. In the lab, they work together to study environmental and biological triggers for Sjögren’s and other autoimmune diseases like lupus. Deshmukh also is interested in the role of microbes in the mouth and gut that could initiate and perpetuate those diseases.
“By investigating basic mechanisms for how Sjögren’s is triggered, we hope the discoveries will lead to therapies toward preventing dryness,” said Deshmukh. “It could also be used to develop new biomarkers, the substances that indicate the presence of disease, in humans.”