(DGIwire) – Everyone experiences dry eyes and mouth from time to time, but when these symptoms persist—especially in tandem with pain and fatigue—they might be symptoms of a more serious underlying condition: Sjögren’s syndrome. More than four million Americans suffer from this autoimmune disorder, according to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF), so it pays to know the fundamentals. Here are some questions to ask about Sjögren’s:
- What is Sjögren’s syndrome? Sjögren’s is an inflammatory disease that can affect many parts of the body, most often the tear and saliva glands, reports the American College of Rheumatology. Patients may notice irritation, a gritty feeling or painful burning of the eyes; dry mouth and swelling of glands around the face and neck are also common. Pain and stiffness can also occur elsewhere in the body.
- Who is most likely to develop Sjögren’s? Nine out of 10 Sjögren’s patients are women, according to the SSF. The average age of diagnosis is the late 40s, although it can occur in all age groups, including children, and in both sexes.
- What causes the dryness in Sjögren’s? In the autoimmune attack that causes Sjögren’s, white blood cells and antibodies target the glands that produce moisture—primarily the lacrimal (tear) and salivary glands, notes the SSF. Although it’s unknown exactly how damage occurs, glands can no longer produce tears and saliva. Dryness can also occur in the skin, sinuses, airways and vaginal tissues.
- How is Sjögren’s diagnosed? Diagnosis depends on a mix of symptoms and physical examination, according to the ACR. Special tests may assess any decrease in tear or saliva production. Blood tests can determine the presence of antibodies (immune system proteins that help destroy foreign invaders) typical of the disease.
- What research is being done on Sjögren’s? Although there exist various medications to treat individual Sjögren’s symptoms, Akari Therapeutics is testing a small-molecule protein named Coversin. Derived from a protein in the saliva of the Ornithodoros moubata tick, Coversin is designed as a topical ocular treatment, making self-administration possible if approved for commercialization. The company has successfully completed a 60-day topical eye toxicology study and there is evidence that Coversin has activity against eye surface inflammation.
Coversin is designed to inhibit the action of C5 and LTB4, which play key roles in a component of the immune system called the complement system and in the inflammatory system. Ordinarily, the complement system helps disable and clear out foreign invaders and unwanted cells, but when C5’s variants are produced in unregulated numbers, the result can trigger life-threatening inflammatory and autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren’s. Further, LTB4, produced in inflammatory reactions, attracts white blood cells (neutrophils) to the area of inflammation, increasing the inflammatory reaction. Coversin has shown promise as a combination C5 and LTB4 inhibitor.
“The only approved drug for dry eye, cyclosporine, is of limited efficacy against ocular Sjögren’s syndrome,” says Gur Roshwalb, MD, CEO of Akari. “Coversin’s special physical characteristics, including its small molecular size, and combination C5 and LTB4 targeting, make it an attractive candidate drug for the treatment of this syndrome compared to various systemic approaches.”
Anyone with further questions about the symptoms and treatment of Sjögren’s syndrome should ask their doctor for more information