A scientific study by researchers from the Infectious Diseases, Inflammation and Immunity section of BIOCAPS has been honoured by the Spanish Rheumatology Society for the second year running. The group from the Biomedical Research Institute (IBI) led by José María Pego was again awarded with the prize for the best study in systemic autoimmune diseases, on this occasion for their analysis of the factors that favour the onset of lymphomas in patients suffering from Sjögren's syndrome. This award is in addition to the appointment of África González, from the same BIOCAPS section, as the new President of the Spanish Immunology Society.
Sjögren's syndrome, which was first reported in 1930 by the Swedish ophthalmologist Henrik Sjögren, is an inflammatory rheumatic disease of unknown origin characterised by dryness of the eyes and mouth due to decreased secretion by the salivary and lacrimal glands. In this disease, the immune system cells known as lymphocytes invade and destroy the external secretion glands, which are responsible for producing the fluids that lubricate the skin and mucosa. They can also affect other organs or systems, such as the lungs, kidneys, circulatory apparatus or nervous system, which is why it is considered to be a systemic disease. As joint pain and inflammation are also common, it can also be considered to be a rheumatic disease.
This condition can affect up to 3% of the population, mainly middle-aged women, and its evolution is very slow, with a period of more than 10 years between onset of the first symptoms and peak disease activity.
Although only a small number of patients develop a tumour of the lymph nodes (lymphoma), this is the most serious complication associated with Sjögren's syndrome and therefore deserves the greatest attention. The IBI research group has participated in a study coordinated by the rheumatologist Betina Nishishinya concerning the factors that trigger this type of cancer in patients with this disease in collaboration with other rheumatologists and experts from the research unit of the Spanish Rheumatology Society.
The results, published in the prestigious journal Rheumatology International in a paper entitled "Identification of lymphoma predictors in patients with primary Sjögren's syndrome: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis" , indicate that the most relevant factors include lymphadenopathies (inflammation of the lymph nodes), enlargement of the parotid gland, palpable purpura (inflammation of the blood vessels), and low levels of protein C4 and cryoglobulins (which play an important role in the immune system by acting as antibodies) in the blood.
Lupus patients registry
The researcher who leads the prizewinning BIOCAPS section, José María Pego, is also responsible for coordinating the Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Patients Registry of the Spanish Rheumatology Society (RELESSER), the largest national scientific registry for lupus patients in the world. The aim of this registry is to broaden our understanding of this autoimmune disease, which affects one out of every thousand people in Spain—with this incidence increasing—and the origin of which is still uncertain, thus meaning that it is essential to study its characteristics in greater depth to progress in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of this disease.
The registry commenced its prospective phase, which involves monitoring various sub-groups of patients, such as those diagnosed recently or who have incomplete lupus, in other words who present fewer than four criteria for this disease, such as arthritis, photosensitivity, renal and neurological problems, etc., last year.
“Since then more than 500 patients have been studied by taking their case history, performing a physical examination and questionnaires, which will be continued for at least three years. The aim of this is to determine which factors can be used to predict an unfavourable evolution of the disease”, explains Pego.
Spanish Immunology Society
In the last few days África González, BIOCAPS coordinator and Head of the Biomedical Research Centre, has also been appointed President elect of the Spanish Immunology Society. This is the main body dedicated to promoting progress in this field of knowledge and facilitating professional contacts between its approximately 800 members from the healthcare, university and business settings.
“It is a great honour for me to have been proposed and that the society's members have put their trust in me for this role”, stresses the researcher, who will share the position with José Ramón Regueiro, Professor of Immunology at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, until early 2016.
In González's opinion, the main objectives for the next four years include the need to increase the visibility of immunology and the Society itself; increase participation in both national and European decision-making settings; facilitate the creation of working groups and networks; and promote cooperation with both other scientific fields and with the business sector.