Great expectorations: UW hosting saliva symposium

News Archive

Great expectorations: UW hosting saliva symposium

Dentists take lead studying saliva's role as disease marker
Steve Steinberg

Imagine a future in which ailments such as heart disease and diabetes can be routinely detected with a simple mouth swab. 

In fact, that future is not far off, and saliva researchers are bringing it closer every day. And Dec. 4-6, some of the field’s leading figures will gather at the University of Washington for the second annual North American Saliva Symposium.

“Saliva is one of the most undervalued components of our body,” said Dr. Joel Berg, dean of the UW School of Dentistry. “It cleans the mouth and the teeth, helps prevent diseases, and separately serves as marker which can signal the presence or onset of systemic disease.” 

pictures of David Wong, Sarah Knox and John McDevitt

Berg’s own research includes studies of saliva as a carrier of oral biofilm and the relative content of various disease-causing bacteria in saliva. 

“There is new and exciting work which will make the use of salivary diagnostics routine to detect the status of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases,” he said.

Salivary diagnostics have any number of advantages, the American Dental Association (ADA) notes: ease of access, noninvasive sample-taking, and reduced risks of infectious disease transmission. For patients – especially children – who fear needles, the use of saliva promises a fast, painless method of testing. In addition, the use of saliva can reduce costs of testing, which can also be conducted in non-traditional settings. 

One previous drawback has been that the substances being measured, such as proteins or nucleic-acid components, are found in lower concentrations in saliva than in blood. However, according to the ADA, technological advances “have significantly improved the ability to monitor and identify candidate biomarkers at the molecular level.”

“Efforts are underway to develop miniaturized lab-on-a-chip technology, where diagnostic tests and tools are made to be rapid, automated, and portable,” according to the National Institutes of Health. “Combined with saliva sample collection or cell collection (by gentle brushing of the skin surface), this technology could eliminate the need for blood sampling or mouth tissue biopsy, in many cases.”

The December symposium, hosted by the School of Dentistry and Oasis Diagnostics Corp., will feature three keynote speakers: 

  • Dr. David T.W. Wong, associate dean of research and director of the UCLA Center for Oral/Head and Neck Oncology Research, will speak on salivary diagnostics and oncology.
  • Sarah Knox, assistant professor of cell and tissue biology at the University of California, San Francisco, will speak on salivary gland organogenesis and regeneration.
  • John McDevitt, chairperson of biomaterials and biomimetics at New York University, will speak on salivary diagnostic devices.

The event will include other speakers' presentations and poster presentations, too. It will take place in Hogness Auditorium at the UW’s Magnuson Health Sciences Center. Find more details here; register here.