Irish scientists have discovered a potential new treatment for Sjögren's syndrome, a disease that causes severe dry eyes and dry mouth.
Sjögren's syndrome causes a patient's white blood cells to attack the body's tear and salivary glands, causing severe dry eyes and dry mouth. The dry and irritated eyes can significantly impact a person's vision, day-to-day activities and quality of life.
The disease is most common between the ages of 40 and 60 and women are nine times more likely to suffer from it than men. It is estimated to affect 3-4% percent of adults in Ireland.
An international team, led by scientists from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), compared samples from the eyes of patients with the disease to samples from patients who were not affected.
They found that those with Sjögren's syndrome had abnormal levels of a certain molecule - microRNA-744 - that controls eye inflammation. This molecule works like a switch, turning the production of cells on and off.
The scientists found that high levels of this molecule caused uncontrolled amounts of inflammation from cells that destroy the glands and damage the surface of the eye.
They were able to reduce this molecule, which in turn reduced the levels of inflammation, in a laboratory setting.
"This is a first step toward a potential new treatment, although much more pre-clinical testing is needed before we can develop it into something that is ready for patients. However, our research provides the opportunity to possibly treat the root cause of the disease rather than just the symptoms," explained Dr Joan Ní Gabhann-Dromgoole, a lecturer at the RCSI and the study's co-author.
Meanwhile, the scientists also found different levels of other microRNAs in the cells of patients compared to the cells of people without the condtion. They believe this could be used to help diagnose patients with Sjögren's syndrome, for which there is currently no test.
The study was carried out in collaboration with the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in the US. The findings are published in the journal, Scientific Reports.
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