Dry mouth is a debilitating and systemic oral health issue. Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Centre have published a study which found that the silkworm, which provides the essential ingredient for fine silk fabric, plays a key role in a process designed to provide relief for dry mouth caused by Sjögren’s syndrome.
The team have submitted their technique for a patent, which is the first to use silk fibres as a framework to grow stem cells into salivary gland cells. Low saliva production due to dry mouth can be a devastating oral health issue, afflicting those who have had radiation treatment for head and neck cancer quite severely.
The leader of the research team, Chih-Ko Yeh, said: “Salivary gland stem cells are some of the most difficult cells to grow in culture and retain their function. In our process, we purified the silk fibres by removing a number of contaminants. We put stem cells from rat salivary glands on the silk framework with a media to nourish them. After several weeks in culture, the cells produced a 3-D matrix covering the silk scaffolds. The cells had many of the same characteristics as salivary gland cells that grow in the mouth.”
The natural, biodegradable, flexible and porous silk proved an excellent choice for stem cell scaffolding as it provides cells easy access to oxygen and nutrition, as well as not causing inflammation.
In future, the researchers intend to continue using rat salivary glands to refine the process, with the end goal of using stem cells derived from human bone marrow or umbilical cord to regenerate salivary glands for humans. Dr Yeh added: “Our group pioneered the development of cell culture technology for harvesting large numbers of stem cells from human bone marrow and human umbilical cord blood.”
Their research was published in Tissue Engineering Part A.