Jillian Ziemanski, OD, MS, FAAO, research assistant professor at the UAB School of Optometry, has been awarded a 5-year K23 grant for $717,250 from the National Eye Institute to evaluate mechanisms of autoimmunity in patients who have dry eye disease due to primary Sjögren’s syndrome (pSS).

Patients with pSS typically have at least a five-year delay in diagnosis. Late stages of the disease, when the diagnosis is finally made, are often associated with severe dry eye disease and occasionally decreased vision, corneal ulceration, and corneal scarring. Treatment with current therapeutics for dry eye results in only modest improvement in a fraction of patients.

Ziemanski’s project evaluates the complement system at the ocular surface in those with pSS dry eye disease with the objective of ultimately improving the diagnostic delay and poor treatment outcomes.

“Sjögren’s syndrome is largely underrepresented in the ophthalmological and rheumatological literature, which unfortunately limits the number of treatment options for these patients,” she said. “My goal is that this research project will be an impetus to the development of new diagnostic devices and new therapeutic approaches. Too many people with this condition need help, and I’m committed to doing my part to help them.”