Antibodies may hold the secret of unravelling the mystery of auto-immune disease

July 17, 2000

A recent study by Adelaide medical researchers has identified a possible link between the symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome and an antibody in the blood which interferes with nerve transmission.

Dr Maureen Rischmueller, consultant rheumatologist in the Department of Rheumatology at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital said, "Sjogren's syndrome is a common auto immune rheumatic disease affecting up to one percent of the population, predominantly women.

"It is typified by severe dryness of the eyes and mouth with accelerated dental caries, often in association with fatigue, muscle and joint pains, swollen glands and other widespread complaints."

Results of the study published this week in the international journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, demonstrate for the first time that antibodies found in the bloodstream of patients with primary Sjogren's syndrome which bind to the receptors of small nerve endings found in glandular structures and other organs have the effect of blocking transmission through these nerves.

Sjogren's syndrome sufferer, Mrs Dorothy Russian, aged 57 and participant of several of the group's previous research studies said, "I have suffered from severe dryness of the mouth and eyes since I was 33 and my problem wasn't diagnosed until I was 46. I think it's great to hear that progress is being made into finding its cause."

Since her diagnosis and subsequent participation in TQEH and FMC Sjogren's syndrome research clinics, Mrs Russian has learned that previous problems such as a swelling in her cheek and lung congestion were in fact complications of her condition.

"I have learned a great deal about Sjogren's syndrome. I now attend meetings of the Arthritis Foundation of South Australia Lupus/Scleroderma/Sjogren's group which has confirmed for me that all people with Sjogren's syndrome are different, with a broad range of symptom type and severity."

Mrs Russian now believes that Sjogren's syndrome is much more common than she was initially led to believe and although her involvement in Sjogren's research studies may not be of direct benefit to her, she said, "I am relieved when research tests reveal the absence of major complications and I hope that others may be helped by my effort in the future."

Dr Rischmueller and associates Dr Sally Waterman and Professor Tom Gordon, Department of Immunology, Allergy and Arthritis, FMC hope to obtain major funding to continue their work into this debilitating illness, the results of which will also aid in the understanding and treatment of other autoimmune diseases.
-end-
The current study was carried out in collaboration with the North Western Adelaide Health Service, Adelaide University and the Flinders Medical Centre.

Photo available from: rob.morrison@adelaide.edu.au

Media Note: Dr Rischmueller is available for interviews as is Mrs Russian.

For more information:

Jan Rohrsheim Public Relations Telephone: 618-182-9490 or mobile 0414-966-538

University of Adelaide

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