The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $2.5 million grant for research into “dry mouth” to be done by faculty at the University at Albany.
The research will try to develop improved treatment for xerostomia, or “dry mouth,” which results from a lack of saliva. Sufferers can experience a variety of conditions, from oral and dental infections and loss of taste to difficulties with swallowing, digesting and speaking. The condition can be caused by an autoimmune disease damaging the saliva glands, or can be a side effect of some medications.
The five-year research project will be a collaboration among faculty at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and the university’s Department of Biological Sciences.
With the NIH funding, lead investigators Dr. Melinda Larsen, an assistant professor of biological sciences, and Dr. James Castracane, head of the nanocollege’s nanobioscience constellation, will work jointly on research that uses nanofibers to develop bioengineered artificial medical scaffolds, which could be used to grow salivary gland cells.
“This research project allows my lab to apply our expertise in basic salivary gland biology to an important clinical problem,” Larsen said in a statement. “We are excited about our partnership with CNSE to understand how cells interact with nanomaterials that will enable us to design engineered tissues for future use in patients.”
The funding “will support groundbreaking research that has great promise to address a medical condition that causes serious health problems for so many people,” Castracane said.
The researchers plan to develop a non-invasive micro-electro-mechanical system to sense salivary cell function in cells that are grown on nanoscale-sized medical scaffolds — something not now possible.
The investigators want to design “smart” scaffolds that can direct cell behavior. The principles developed through the research may be applied to treat diseases in other complex organs, and to improve the drug screening process.
The funding is through NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.