January 13, 2016

UConn working on artificial salivary gland to fight dry mouth

Dr. Robert Kelly, a professor of reconstructive sciences in the UConn School of Dental Medicine, and his colleagues have set out to develop and commercialize a technology to combat dry mouth: An artificial salivary gland that, when surgically implanted into a patient's mouth, mimics natural saliva production and relieves dryness.

Dry mouth is a possible side effect for hundreds of prescription and nonprescription medications, and can also be brought on by factors such as aging, tobacco use, cancer therapy, or autoimmune diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Sjogren's Syndrome.

Also known as xerostomia, chronic dry mouth due to lack of saliva affects the quality of life for an estimated 20 million Americans. Yet, over-the-counter mouthwashes are currently the only available treatment, according to UConn.

Kelly and his team, using techniques from both chemical and mechanical engineering, hope to create a device that relies on a reservoir that collects the patient's own fluid, then filters and adjusts it to mimic the chemistry of saliva fluid.

"This isn't just a question of discomfort," Kelly, a seasoned inventor who holds eight patents and counting, said in UConn's release. "Along with symptoms like frequent thirst, bad breath, and sticky mouth, chronic xerostomia can also result in rapid tooth decay, fungal infections, and problems eating and speaking due to insufficient saliva production. We expect our product will drastically improve quality of life for patients suffering from this condition."

To get their product closer to market, Kelly and his colleagues applied to the University's new National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Site, Accelerate UConn, in the fall of 2015. They were among nine teams selected to participate in the entrepreneurship program's first funding cycle.

Unlike many other teams participating in Accelerate UConn, Kelly and his colleagues had already made significant progress in commercializing their technology. Before entering the program, they had conducted successful proof-of-concept experiments, received two awards from the UConn SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund, had filed patent applications to protect their technology, and had incorporated their startup, Oral Fluid Dynamics LLC.

Kelly said he's positive about chances to receive future funding and get the product to market.

"We're going to keep building on this momentum," he said.

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