Scientists’ Silk Structure Could Lead to Regeneration of Salivary Cells



Tissue engineering could aid millions of people who suffer from dry mouth from Sjögren’s syndrome.

The silkworm, which generates the main ingredient for fine silk fabric, plays a major role in this new process created to offer relief for many people who deal with a dry mouth condition.

The research team from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the first to use silk fibers in this manner.

Saliva is a lesser-known factor that is pivotal for good health. It allows a person to speak, swallow, wash food off teeth, and aid in food digestion, in addition to many other tasks. There is no good treatment for salivary glands that produce at a low level or don’t function at all. That’s why this research could end up being so crucial for the 4 million Americans who deal with Sjögren’s syndrome, which adversely impacts the salivary glands and tear ducts.

People who have had radiation treatment for head and neck cancer also encounter low saliva. There is also a group of older Americans (about 50 percent) whose medication result in a dry mouth condition called xerostomia.

Salivary gland stem cells are some of the most difficult cells to grow, which created the impetus for this study.

Silk is a good choice for stem cell scaffolding because it is biodegradable, flexible, natural and porous, allowing the developing cells easy access to nutrition and oxygen. It also does not result in inflammation.

Rat salivary glands will continue to be used for now but the ultimate goal is use stem cells derived from human bone marrow or umbilical cord blood. Stem cells from these sources are numerous and they can be used in many areas based on tissue engineering.

Ideally, within the next decade, the researchers would like for stem cells to be transfused into damaged human salivary glands to rejuvenate salivary glands.

This study was published in the May issue of the journal Tissue Engineering Part A.