Your donations at work: NIH endorses ‘Salivation Army’s’ war on xerostomia

Simon Young, DDS, MD, PhD

In the hyper-competitive world of medical research, it’s understood that it takes a lot of money to accomplish anything of significance. The process of developing, testing and validating an innovative solution to a pressing problem is lengthy and expensive, making the quest for funding crucial.

Mary C. Farach-Carson, PhD, and Simon Young, DDS, MD, PhD, captain a research team at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston affectionately known as the “Salivation Army.” Their objective: offer permanent relief to patients afflicted with xerostomia due to radiation therapy, medication, illness or age. Their strategy: re-create functional salivary glands in the lab using a patient’s own cells and return them to the salivary bed to restore salivation.

Mary C. Farach-Carson, PhD

They launched the project in 2005 with private funding from a grateful patient and sustained yearly progress with a patchwork of research grants. Initially, the team focused on extracting major salivary glands as sources for its “salivary avatars.” In 2019, following up on an idea proposed by Dr. Mark Wong, the team successfully applied for a $75,000 Research Support Grant from the OMS Foundation to test and validate a new source of salivary stem cells: minor salivary glands that are both plentiful and easily extracted from a patient’s lip during common oral and maxillofacial surgical procedures. The OMS Foundation grant – their largest grant to date – was a game-changer, confirming the value of minor salivary glands as a source of viable stem cells and funding a much-needed research assistant.

Fortified with the data collected in 2020-21, the team was awarded a $3.4 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2023 that will sustain their work over the next four to five years. “Our goal for this next phase is to successfully innervate our implanted constructs to support normal function of the gland,” said Dr. Farach-Carson. “We’ve made real progress toward permanently restoring salivary function in cancer survivors afflicted with chronic dry mouth following radiation treatment. We are so grateful for the Foundation’s support of the early stages of this project. Without it, we would not be where we are today.”

Read more about the next phase of this research here and donate to the Foundation to support innovative projects like this one.