Spotlight on Sjögren’s Syndrome

Sjögren’s (“SHOW-grins”) syndrome is one of the most common autoimmune diseases, affecting more than 4,000,000 people in the US, most of them women. This complex, systemic disorder can cause multiple organ dysfunctions and symptoms including dry mouth, dry eyes, fatigue, and painful joints that severely affect quality of life. Now, two interdisciplinary teams funded by C-DOCTOR are making strides towards restoring salivary gland function in patients with Sjögren’s and other causes of xerostomia (dry mouth).

Drs. Sarah Knox, Chelsea Bahney, Eben Alsberg, and Nicole Ehrhart are poised to bring relief to an unusual group of patients—pet dogs receiving cancer treatment at Colorado State University’s clinic. If successful, these happily drooling canines could pave the way to an injectable medication for human patients who have also sustained radiation damage to their salivary glands during treatment for head and neck cancers. Knox and her team—which includes researchers from UC San Francisco, Steadman Philippon Research Institute, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Colorado State—are beginning their second year of C-DOCTOR support.

The Houston-based “Salivation Army,” led by Dr. Mary C. (Cindy) Farach-Carson of the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Dentistry with collaborators at Stanford University and Allegheny-Singer Research Institute, is also pioneering a new strategy for permanent relief of xerostomia, using hydrogel-encapsulated adult stem cells to generate new salivary gland tissues. “Recent developments using adult stem cells to treat patients with Lupus suggests that stem cell therapies may hold promise for treating other autoimmune disorders, including Sjögren’s,” says Farach-Carson.

C-DOCTOR’s strong commitment to supporting novel regenerative therapies for xerostomia stems in part from a close working relationship with the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF). “The hope provided by the C-DOCTOR initiative is paramount for Sjögren’s patients who can face destruction of their salivary glands over time. Knowing that researchers are working on ways to generate new, functional tissue is a true gift that can dramatically change patients’ perspective on what their future may hold,” says Katherine Hammitt, SSF Vice President of Medical & Scientific Affairs. She adds that the SSF looks forward to conveying the exciting results of C-DOCTOR-supported research to the Sjögren’s community.