Our Sjögren’s syndrome research

We’re investigating the multiple factors that inform Sjögren’s syndrome and autoimmunity. A major problem faced by doctors treating autoimmune disease is the diversity and unpredictability of symptoms, and the inconsistent response to treatment.

Garvan’s scientists use advanced techniques like single cell sequencing and flow cytometry to identify the molecular defects that cause autoimmune disease.

Recently, we identified sub-forms of Sjögren’s that are triggered by mechanisms previously thought unrelated. Sjögren’s can be caused by improper regulation of two immune cell types — T and B cells —  which comprise the ‘adaptive’ part of the immune system that responds to antigens (foreign substances).

We’re also studying why some B cells go rogue and start to produce autoantibodies, and then attack different parts of the body.

Understanding the genetics of these B cells and how they differ from normal cells helps us choose and target specific immunotherapy drugs. These drugs can then be further improved to eliminate the rogue cells while preserving good B cells.

This work will lead to better measures and predictors of Sjögren’s severity — so that patients with a higher risk of acquiring severe symptoms can be treated earlier, before the disease has significantly damaged their tissues.

Meet the Garvan scientists working Sjögren’s syndrome:

Key areas of investigation

Cytokine arrays used to compare proteins like BAFF
Cytokine arrays used to compare proteins like BAFF

B cells and regulatory T cells

Garvan’s scientists have shown that many patients with Sjögren’s have high levels of a protein called B cell-activating factor  (BAFF) in their blood  serum, as  well as  locally in their glands. BAFF plays a critical role in B cell survival and immune response. High levels of BAFF enables B cells to progress the disease without the help of T cells, which was previously thought to be essential for the development of Sjögren’s.

Read more
Prof Chris Goodnow
Prof Chris Goodnow

Hope Research – finding the cause of autoimmune disease

Hope Research is a large exploratory study into the cause of autoimmune diseases. We’re looking to identify rogue immune cells in patients’ blood, which are thought to drive the immune system to attack the body.

Read more

National and international collaborations

  • Flinders University of South Australia
  • Bristol Myers Squibb
  • James Cook University
  • UNSW Sydney
  • University of Adelaide