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Salivary science attracts networks, pioneering health research

Salivary Biosciences Symposium attendees
May 07, 2014

What connects swine in North Carolina, recreational water use and 21 percent of the U.S. population? The answer was one of the many intriguing outcomes of the Salivary Biosciences Symposium held on April 22 on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. 

Sponsored by ASU’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research, more than 30 of the institute’s collaborators gathered in person or virtually, worldwide. Their goal: to forge better ways to assess health disparities, social experiences and long term health impacts of stress, and track emergent diseases, such as the pig-borne pathogen, hepatitis e-virus. 

Researcher Chris Heaney from Johns Hopkins University partnered with ASU Foundation Professor Douglas Granger, the institute’s director, to develop “next-generation” salivary methods to assess hepatitis, water borne and other infectious diseases. Heaney’s epidemiological studies in the U. S. were challenged by a reluctance of people at the beach, “not being willing to join a study if it involved blood or stool.”

Collection issues were particularly dire in his work overseas, Heaney said. “In clinics in developing countries, you might have thousands of people coming in and no opportunities to do follow ups, ever, particularly during elections in Bangladesh. People risk their lives to come even once.” 

“That means one shot to see, diagnose and treat disease,” Heaney said. “These salivary tests could provide that link to rapid diagnosis and treatment.”

In addition to Heaney and Granger, the symposium attracted researchers from ASU’s Department of Psychology, School of Electrical Computer and Energy Engineering, School of Music and T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, and others using saliva studies to improve health, development and performance in South Africa, Germany, Canada and institutions across the U.S., including the San Diego Zoo.

“We want to shepherd responsible, rapid and impactful ways to help people, as stewards of this growing field of salivary sciences,” said Granger.

Gerald Giesbrecht, an assistant professor in the Department of Paediatrics with the University of Calgary, said the institute and symposium did just that, offering him opportunities learn the latest techniques from people at the forefront of salivary bioscience and to gain exposure for his work.

“In hearing talks from people who are working in areas that are very different from my own, I identified several ideas that I think can be applied to my work that examines the effects of psychological stress on the development of young children,” said Giesbrecht.  

“It is often the case that new findings require years before they are published, so this is a way to help guide the work that I’m doing right now,” he added. “ASU certainly has a great deal to offer and I see Doug and the institute as a hub that connects different ‘satellite’ research groups. This symposium allowed me to make new connections with folks in Berlin and Baltimore.” 

Among the cutting-edge approaches discussed was a study piloted by Granger and ASU Professor Olga Kornienko in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and students in the School of Music who examine social networks with the help of members of the ASU marching band. More about this and other institute research can be found in the spring issue of the CLAS Magazine.