Scleroderma is a group of diseases that causes skin, and sometimes internal organs, to become hard and tight. In fact, the word scleroderma actually means "hard skin".
Scleroderma is currently believed to be caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body's own tissues. This attack causes inflammation and an overproduction of collagen, the protein that makes up connective tissues. Too much collagen is what causes the hardness and the tightness. As of this writing, researchers are unsure of what triggers this.
Scleroderma can cause complications that turn a serious condition into a deadly one. It can also be difficult to diagnose. There is no reliable treatment or cure. The cause, or causes, is unknown.
My brother-in-law, dearly loved by many, died at the age of 43. His death had multiple causes, but scleroderma certainly made his overall condition much harder for physicians to manage and treat. It's impossible to say for certain what might have happened, but he might have lived a much longer life if he hadn't had scleroderma (or, if scleroderma had been easier to treat). It also caused him a great deal of inconvenience, discomfort, and compromised mobility.
Besides finding a cure or treatment, scleroderma research may bring benefits to other diseases of the autoimmune system, or to the overall progress of diagnosis as a medical discipline.
The Scleroderma Research Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission it is to fund and facilitate the most promising medical research aimed at improved therapies and, ultimately, a cure for scleroderma. For more information, visit http://www.srfcure.org.