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Peppas and Anslyn Receive NIH Funding to Improve Early Detection of Autoimmune Disorders

autoimmune nih peppas

Left to right: Dr. Julia Vela and graduate students Heidi Culver and Marissa Wechsler make up part of the team who are using sensor arrays to measure changes in protein concentration, which could allow for earlier diagnosis of the autoimmune disorder Sjögren’s syndrome.

Treatment of autoimmune disorders is most effective when they are diagnosed early. In Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the exocrine system, patients suffer from dry eye and dry mouth. Diagnosis is often delayed by six to ten years even after symptoms appear. Currently, patients must undergo multiple tests, including a biopsy of the salivary gland, to diagnose Sjögren’s syndrome.

Nicholas Peppas, professor of biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, and pharmacy, and Eric Anslyn, professor of chemistry, have received a $1.3 million NIH grant to investigate how to use nanotechnology to noninvasively diagnose Sjögren’s syndrome in the early stages of the disease. In their approach, a diagnostic sensor array is used to monitor protein concentration changes in the saliva or tears of symptomatic patients. Earlier diagnosis can help mitigate damage that occurs later in the disease. Patients with Sjögren’s syndrome may have difficulty speaking, swallowing, or seeing, and, in later stages, more serious complications, such as complete vision loss and development of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Overall the goal of the research is to provide a more robust, low-cost, noninvasive diagnostic tool that measures biochemical changes in a patient and could provide earlier diagnosis for Sjögren’s syndrome and potentially other autoimmune disorders.