UW School of Dentistry

UW to host national saliva symposium

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

David Wong
Dr. David T.W. Wong

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

“Saliva is one of the most undervalued components of our body,” said Dean Joel Berg of the 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.”

Dr. 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.

John McDevitt

“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 the cost 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.”

Sarah Knox
Sarah Knox

“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, which is hosted by the School of Dentistry and Oasis Diagnostics Corp., will feature three keynote speakers:

  • David T.W. Wong, associate dean of research and director of the UCLA Center for Oral/Head and Neck Oncology Research, who will speak on salivary diagnostics and oncology.
  • Sarah Knox, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Cell & Tissue Biology at the University of California, San Francisco, who will speak on salivary gland organogenesis and regeneration.
  • John McDevitt, PhD, chairperson of biomaterials and biomimetics at New York University and chief scientific officer and founder of SensoDX, LLC, who will speak on salivary diagnostic devices.

The symposium will also include shorter presentations from other speakers, plus poster presentations, and will take place in Hogness Auditorium at the UW’s Magnuson Health Sciences Center. Online registration is being handled by the School of Dentistry.