Our salivary glands makes more than a liter-and-a-half of saliva a day, which we all need to help us eat, speak, and swallow. For head and neck cancer patients, an unfortunate side effect of radiation therapy is damage to the salivary gland, which leads to decreased saliva production and dry mouth. Dry mouth causes oral infections, cavities, loss of teeth and severely impairs a person’s quality of life. Currently, there is no effective treatment for this debilitating condition.
Catherine E. Ovitt, Ph.D., associate professor in the Center for Oral Biology, and Marit Aure, Ph.D., postdoctoral associate in Ovitt’s lab, are trying to figure out how to regenerate the secretory cells that produce saliva to help with the development of a treatment for dry mouth. The current assumption is that stem cells are responsible for regenerating salivary gland cells, but their research suggests that the secretory cells themselves might be the key. Check out this video for more.