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URMC / Research / Research@URMC / April 2015 / Saliva: Taken for Granted Until It’s Not Produced

Saliva: Taken for Granted Until It’s Not Produced

For years scientists have been searching for salivary gland stems cells as the panacea to restore saliva for head-and-neck cancer patients suffering from dry mouth due to radiation treatment. But new research at the University of Rochester shows that just like the liver and pancreas, it appears the salivary glands are maintained without the support of a stem cell pool.DNA swab from older man's mouth

This important insight could lead to new therapies for cancer survivors and patients with Sjogren’s syndrome, an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth and dry eyes. The new information may allow scientists to jump-start secretory cell regeneration and restore the salivary gland.

Catherine Ovitt, Ph.D., led the investigation. She is an associate professor of Biomedical Genetics and the Center for Oral Biology at the UR's Eastman Institute for Oral Health. Postdoctoral fellow Marit Aure, Ph.D., is the first author of the study, which is reported in the journal Developmental Cell.

Ovitt’s lab used a technique called genetic labeling to directly trace cells in the salivary glands. Contrary to the widely held view that stem cells are necessary for replacing secretory cells, they were able to clearly demonstrate that secretory cells can duplicate and expand, even after injury.

Radiation treatment to the head and neck induces DNA damage and targets the secretory cells, often shutting off their ability to proliferate. The resulting loss of salivary gland function is common and leads to severe, irreversible dry mouth and oral infections.

To read the full study, click here.


Leslie Orr | 4/7/2015

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