Ophthalmology professor receives $60,000 RPB award to research Sjogren's syndrome

Hui Shao, MD, PhD, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, has received a $60,000 Lew R. Wasserman Merit Award from the Research to Prevent Blindness (RPB) organization. The grant will help fund Shao's research of Sjogren's syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disease that targets the salivary and lacrimal glands - the glands that produce saliva and tears, respectively - resulting in dry mouth and dry eye symptoms.

Shao and her team recently discovered a protein, called Klk22, that appears to play a role in the development of Sjogren's Syndrome.

"Our next projects will examine the clinical relevance of this protein by determining the mechanism by which immune cells targeted to this protein attack and destroy the lacrimal and salivary glands in animal models," Shao said. "In the near future we hope to determine if indeed there is a correlation between primary Sjogren's syndrome and this protein in humans."

If that connection is definitively made, Shao said, Klk22 could prove a useful biomarker for the diagnosis of primary Sjogren's syndrome and the immune response to this protein, if monitored, could help to determine the efficacy of therapies in individuals with the disease.

Sjogren's syndrome affects at least 4 million Americans. Nine out of 10 Sjogren's patients are women and the average age of onset is late 40s, although Sjogren's occurs in all age groups in both women and men.

Established in 1995, the RPB Lew R. Wasserman Merit Awards provide unrestricted support to mid-career MD and PhD scientists who hold primary positions within departments of ophthalmology and are actively engaged in eye research at medical institutions in the United States. Shao is one of 108 scientists at 44 institutions who have been honored with this award.

"I am so grateful and thankful to RPB for this award, which will help further my work in an important area of research," Shao said. "The work that RPB does is critical in helping scientists such as myself continue to make important discoveries in the field of ophthalmology."

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