A discovery at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation is paving a path toward a more accurate and less intrusive diagnosis of Sjögren’s disease, an autoimmune disorder affecting up to 4 million Americans.
Currently, at least 30% of people suspected to have Sjögren’s disease undergo a diagnostic lip biopsy because they lack a telltale biomarker found through a blood test, said OMRF scientist Darise Farris, Ph.D.
“That biomarker has traditionally played a primary role in diagnosing the disease,” Farris said. “Over time, we’ve determined that many people with Sjögren’s don’t test positive for it. This study confirmed that different biomarkers exist for many of those patients.”
In Sjögren’s, immune cells mistakenly attack and destroy healthy cells in the glands that produce tears and saliva. Dry mouth and eyes are the most noticeable symptoms, but Sjögren’s also can affect the blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas and brain. The disease occurs in all races and ethnicities but most commonly affects women over age 50.
Farris, who directs OMRF’s Sjögren’s Research Clinic, led a proof-of-concept study involving 126 volunteers diagnosed with Sjögren’s, about half of whom lacked the previously known blood marker. In the blood samples of 65 participants without that known biomarker, the OMRF researchers found more than 12 new protein targets connected to this autoimmune disease.
“What this suggests is that it is possible to discover new biomarkers for Sjögren’s,” Farris said. “It also suggests that we may ultimately be able to prevent thousands of people from undergoing a lip biopsy.”
“We’re still trying to understand the essential nature of Sjögren’s,” said OMRF Executive Vice President & Chief Medical Officer Judith James, M.D., Ph.D. “Dr. Farris’s research made significant progress in that effort. The next step is to expand this study to a larger set of people with the disease and with similar diseases to see how these tests might lead to earlier and simpler diagnosis for Sjögren’s patients.”
The study was published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. This research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants R01AR065953, R01AR073855, R01AR074310, P30AR073750, P50AR060804, T32AI007633, U54GM104938 and UM1AI144292. Additional funding came from the Rheumatology Research Foundation, Oklahoma City’s Presbyterian Health Foundation and Sjögren’s Foundation.