Lunch @UCSF with Sarah Knox – Spit take: love your saliva

Lunch @UCSF with Sarah Knox – Spit take: love your saliva

Lunch @UCSF with Sarah Knox – Spit take: love your saliva


In the family of biological fluids, saliva is like a middle child: often under appreciated or taken for granted. But spit lubricates your mouth, helps you swallow, protects teeth against bacteria and aids in the digestion of food. If you don’t have enough spit, life is miserable: massive tooth decay, infections and wounds in the mouth, constant thirst and inability to taste or even eat hot or hard foods. Those who can’t generate saliva don’t even get a good night’s sleep because they wake up often to rehydrate, and then are tired during the day.

Such is the case for some 4 million people in the United States — mostly women — with an autoimmune disorder called Sjögren’s syndrome, which includes severe dry mouth as a symptom. It’s similar for those with throat and neck cancer – more than 60,000 diagnosed every year – because the radiotherapy that kills their cancer also destroys the salivary glands, stunting the flow of saliva.

Sarah Knox, a scientist in the UCSF School of Dentistry’s Department of Cell and Tissue Biology, focuses on the salivary gland – the saliva factory. Knox digs deep into the microscopic inner workings of this factory. In particular, Knox explores the parasympathetic nerves, which diminish in supply and power when the salivary gland is zapped by radiation.

Knox’s quest to understand fully how the salivary gland and its nerves function will have great value, far beyond oral health. By deciphering the mechanisms by which nerves communicate with tissue cells and, in particular, stem cells, her lab is answering some fundamental questions about how organs throughout the body form, grow and repair.


Registration is required.

29 October 2017