• Science Saturday: Seeking a regenerative therapy for chronic dry mouth

Woman rinsing and gargling while using mouthwash from a glass

Mayo Clinic researchers are seeking a regenerative therapy for a vexing problem, particularly among cancer patients. How can medical providers treat a condition in which the mouth is so parched that it has an incessant feeling of a cotton lining? Xerostomia, also known as chronic dry mouth, is an agonizing side effect of injury to the salivary glands. While it is most common after radiation treatment for head and neck cancer, it also afflicts people with diabetesstrokeAlzheimer’s disease and HIV/AIDS.

“Dry mouth is something that when you have a life threatening illness, at first may not seem like a big deal. However, this condition can extend long after radiation treatments are complete. It’s probably the top concern I have from head and neck cancer patients. Unfortunately, there aren’t many therapeutics available commercially for these patients,” says Jeffrey Janus, M.D., an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

Currently there is only supportive care —  no cure — for the decrease in saliva that comes from xerostomia. Besides being uncomfortable, chronic dry mouth can lead to difficulties with chewing, tasting, speaking and swallowing. It can also cause tooth decay.

Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative MedicineDepartment of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology and Department of Otolaryngology are collaborating on ways to address the unmet needs of these patients.

The question investigators are seeking to answer is whether the body’s healing abilities could be unleashed to restore natural lubrication of salivary glands. The research will focus on the regenerative abilities of epithelial cells found within many glands in the body, including salivary, mammary and prostate glands. They hope to discover whether epithelial cells could be tapped to regenerate salivary gland tissue to produce natural saliva.

Building on existing research

Previous studies showing epithelial cells purified from mammary glands could regenerate functionally-intact mammary glands piqued the interest of the research team. Could the same concept be applied to heal and restore saliva in salivary glands? Their research will build on this existing body of knowledge.

Read the rest of the article on the Center for Regenerative Medicine blog.


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