Skip to main content
Dr. Sara McCoy Sara McCoy text

We are proud to announce Sara McCoy, MD, PhD — a Sjögren’s Foundation Board member and a recipient of the Foundation Pilot Grant last year — received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. McCoy was named one of six investigators selected to receive funding from the Leadership Scholars Program for her work on Sjögren’s disease.

The Leadership Scholars Program was launched as a pilot program in 2022 to create a more robust team of researchers dedicated to women’s health research. This program is sponsored by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH), and the Office of Data Science Strategy (ODSS).

We are excited to see her research gain more visibility and help increase expert collaborations for Sjögren’s research.

Below is an adapted summary of her work from the Leadership Scholars Program application.

Title: Sjögren’s Disease Salivary Gland Mesenchymal Stromal Cells: Defining the Transcriptional and Epigenetic Landscape Changes in Health and Disease


The long-term goal is to generate therapies that target the pathogenic role of salivary gland mesenchymal stromal cells (SG-MSCs) in Sjögren’s disease (SjD). The objective of this application is to define the SG-MSC transcriptional and epigenetic landscape in SjD, and how these relate to clinical SjD features.

The central hypothesis is that SjD MSCs, exposed to chronic local inflammation, have higher proportions of pathogenic MSCs and that inflammatory MSC proportions associate with disease activity but not symptoms. The rationale for this hypothesis is based on established data showing that SjD patients with high dryness, pain, and fatigue have lower disease severity. New exciting preliminary data show that MSCs, along with T-cells, are increased in SjD salivary glands and have unique divergent inflammatory pathway activation, further supporting SG-MSC’s importance in SjD pathogenesis. The central hypothesis will be tested by pursuing three specific aims: 1) interrogate salivary gland MSC transcriptional and epigenetic landscape; 2) determine the association between MSC subsets and SjD symptom and disease severity; and 3) goals for leadership and mentorship training. Aim 1 leverages single cell (sc) ATAC-seq, scRNA-seq, and confirmatory assays to determine SG-MSC phenotypes in SjD and control subjects. Aim 2 correlates SG-MSC subtype proportions with SjD symptoms and disease activity. Aim 3 focuses on PI leadership and mentorship growth and integration into AMP®AIM through scheduled collaborator meetings, curriculum coursework, and cross-disease collaborations with field experts. The proposed research is innovative, because it defines the pathogenesis of a cell type that has heretofore been overlooked in SjD pathogenesis by integrating cutting edge ‘omics: sc ATAC-seq and sc RNA-seq.

The proposal is significant because it clarifies the pathobiology of a novel immunomodulatory cell, the SG-MSC, opening new horizons for MSC-targeted therapies. This proposal enhances the AMP®AIM program by providing a structural framework for evaluating tissue MSCs and their association with symptoms and clinical phenotypes that can be extrapolated to other AMP®AIM network diseases. This proposal also builds a cross-disciplinary team of AMP®AIM members. This strong network will support integration into the AMP®AIM and future productive collaborations in SjD.