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Amanda Wahl awarded a three-year NIH F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award

Monday, February 1, 2021

Congratulations to Amanda Wahl, graduate student in the CMPP program, laboratory of Dr. David Yule. Amanda was recently awarded a three-year NIH F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award entitled, "Elucidating the mechanisms of salivary gland dysfunction following gamma-irradiation utilizing an experimental and computational approach".

Project Summary:

Individuals diagnosed with head and neck cancer undergo radiation therapy as a standard treatment. However, in the process of using radiation therapy to shrink the tumor, the salivary glands are inadvertently and irreversibly damaged. This damage manifests as a loss of saliva secretion, occurs rapidly without marked cell death, and leads to deleterious effects, including loss of taste, oral infections, and xerostomia (dry mouth). The mechanism by which this early loss of function occurs, is currently unknown and presently there is little in the form of

treatment, with most options being palliative. Thus, there is a pressing need to expand our understanding of salivary gland physiology and the effects of g-irradiation on both the structure and function of the salivary gland. This proposal utilizes experimental techniques including confocal, Stimulated Emission Depletion (STED) and intravital microscopy. Each technique will be employed for use in a variety of assays to investigate the structural and functional consequences of acute g-irradiation on salivary glands. This in vitro and in vivo experimental

approach will additionally be used in combination with computational modeling through a long-term collaboration to understand in detail the effect of g-irradiation on secretion. In an iterative manner, experimental data will be input to the computation model and subsequently used to make further predictions which will be experimentally tested- furthering our understanding of physiology and pathology of salivary glands. In these studies, this experimental-computational approach will be used to determine how alterations within the salivary gland impact

its function, leading to dry mouth, and an eventual permanent loss of glandular tissue and function. This proposal addresses three different mechanisms that may dictate this loss of function. These include an alteration in functioning of gap and tight junctions, calcium signaling, and mitochondrial bioenergetics. By examining each of these aspects, the experimental data can be integrated into the computational model. The great utility of this approach is that many iterations of computational experiments can be completed in parallel with these in vitro

and in vivo studies and used to suggest further experiments and make predictions. The dynamic utilization of this computational-experimental approach will facilitate understanding how an alteration in a component of the gland's secretory machinery following g-irradiation might alter saliva production. Ultimately, this approach is designed to forecast potential novel therapeutic approaches for treating g-irradiation induced salivary dysfunction.