Improving understanding of the development of Sjogren's syndrome

Disease - Sjögren’s syndrome

Lead applicant - Dr Francesca Barone

Organisation - University of Birmingham

Type of grant - Senior Research Fellowship

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £1,004,344

Start date - 1 September 2016

Reference - 21236

Public Summary

What are the aims of this research?

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks your body's own tissues; mainly your tear-producing glands (lacrimal glands) behind your eyelids, and the salivary glands in your mouth. In Sjögren’s syndrome, immune cells form structures (similar to lymph glands that contain immune cells) named tertiary lymphoid organs (TLOs) that reside in the salivary glands. TLOs look like lymph glands but don’t behave the same as once they are activated they remain activated and inflamed.

Cells found in TLOs, called stromal cells, receive signals from the immune cells. These signals activate the stromal cells and make them behave differently. It has been shown that the presence of TLOs could lead to the later development of lymphoma; cancer of the lymph glands in a small percentage of people.

As well as answering why these structures are present, and whether removal of these structures makes disease better, the research will also look at how they lead to the development of lymphoma.

Why is this research important?

Ultimately, this research is important as there is no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome. Improving understanding of the disease through answering why TLOs persist, could help researchers to find a new and much needed approach to treatment.

The researchers will use a combination of mouse models and human samples. They will first look at how stromal cells act to see whether they are pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory, and try to understand how these cells change their behaviour when they are activated. Once this has been achieved the findings will be confirmed using human samples. This will tell the researchers whether this discovery could be used for the development of a new treatment for Sjögren’s syndrome.

How will the findings benefit patients?

Sjögren’s syndrome affects 0.1-0.4% of the adult UK population, making it a relatively common autoimmune disease. As stated above, there is currently no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome; this research will improve understanding of the disease and could enable the development of new and effective treatments, improving the lives of patients with the disease.