Sand In Your Eyes
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Sand In Your EyesIf you’re a tennis fan then you may already know that Venus Williams has Sjögren’s (SHOW-grins) Syndrome or SS. The symptoms are quite painful: severe dry eyes that perpetually feels like sand is in them, as well as a dry mouth that makes swallowing difficult. It’s the third most common autoimmune disease in America, where the body’s immune system attacks its own cells.

Unfortunately, it typically takes about six years for sufferers to be accurately diagnosed, which is often too late. By then both the salivary and tear glands are destroyed and you’re left treating the symptoms. The obstacle has been that doctors don’t have an early method of diagnosis, but now there is one. It measures for antibodies that scientists identified in the blood which show up early in the disease. Researchers found them by first developing mice with SS.

These mice had elevated levels of the messenger RNAs that code for three salivary gland proteins. Researchers then looked for and found antibodies attacking these three proteins. The mouse immune system was fighting its own proteins, the hallmark of an autoimmune disorder.

Researchers found the same antibodies in people with SS, and at least one of the antibodies was found in over seventy-five percent of patients with early forms of the disease. Diagnosing Sjögren’s early could help doctors save a patient’s salivary and tear glands, and perhaps slow the progression of SS which is systemic. It can affect the brain, kidneys, liver, lungs, skin, and nerves. Patients also have a five to fifteen percent chance of eventually developing lymphoma.

What causes Sjögren’s syndrome is unclear. Genes may be a factor or possibly a viral or bacterial infection. Nearly all patients are women over forty. The good news is this new test may be available this year.