Dr Emmerson’s research work is aimed at relieving ‘dry mouth’ in throat cancer sufferers; a very debilitating condition often brought on as a result of radiotherapy treatment for cancer, by regenerating salivary glands.
Here she explains her very personal reasons as to why she is involved with this exciting work.
My father was diagnosed with head and neck cancer when I was 22. Prior to starting radiotherapy, he underwent some extensive dental work. At the time I didn’t understand why, but curiosity led me to discover that the biggest side-effect of radiotherapy to treat head and neck cancer is damage to other organs in the head. This includes the salivary glands, the organs that produce saliva and keep the mouth and teeth healthy and lubricated. Can you imagine spending the rest of your life with no saliva? It sounds awful, doesn’t it? Well, this is what head and neck cancer patients face following treatment. There is no cure and patients rely on using synthetic saliva or constantly sipping water. As medicine has progressed the idea of regenerating damaged organs from stem cells, unspecialized cells that can develop into mature cells following injury has become increasingly promising. However, these cells require specialized signals from their environment, which are often lost when the organ is damaged. My research aims to return these signals to the salivary gland which would enable the stem cells within to regenerate functional cells and in turn allow the glands to produce saliva again. This would greatly improve the quality of life and oral health for thousands of cancer patients.
Follow Elaine on twitter @doctoremmerson.
Dr Emmerson’s profile on the Centre for Regenerative Medicine website http://crm.ed.ac.uk/research/group/mechanisms-regeneration-age