Walking in the Sahara Desert and sticking your head in the sand--with your eyes open: That's how people describe the painful and disabling symptoms of a puzzling inflammatory condition called Sjogren's syndrome.

Affecting millions of Americans, Sjogren's is a condition that leaves the eyes and mouth painfully dry and gritty. Scientists suspect Sjogren's is an autoimmune disorder that affects all the body's moisture-producing glands, and it often affects people with other immune system disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Without adequate moisture, patients can experience severe ulceration of the cornea and subsequent visual loss. Problems in other organs of the body can lead to severe joint pain and fatigue.

Now, a scientist has found what seems like a surprisingly simple solution, a treatment that reverses the dryness and restores moisture to the eye.

David Sullivan of the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston has been studying hormonal regulation of the eye and found that male sexual hormones called androgens, including testosterone, play an important role in Sjogren's. Placing a topical film of testosterone on the eye seems to reverse or suppress the inflammatory process, according to early studies.

There has been little attention paid to Sjogren's, despite an estimate that 2 million to 4 million people, primarily women, are affected by this condition.

Sullivan has focused on the outer film of the eye. He has found that administering testosterone suppressed the eye inflammation.

A pharmaceutical company is now testing Sullivan's treatment in Phase I clinical studies.