PhD Studentship: Salivary Profile of Children and Young Adults and the Impact of Health and Lifestyle

University of Sheffield - School of Clinical Dentistry

Our population is ageing and we know that globally the number of older individuals is increasing at a greater rate than that of young people. We hypothesise that with age saliva composition and output alters and can have a significant impact on our health and well-being. Significantly saliva can give us information not only about oral diseases but also diseases affecting other areas of our bodies. For example, saliva plays an important role in our nutritional status allowing us to taste and smell food, to swallow and to start digestion. Age-related salivary changes negatively impacting our nutritional status might increase the risk of disease development and/or recovery time. Many prescription drugs affect salivary output; this has not been investigated in terms of age, polypharmacy or prophylaxis. To fully assess the impact of ageing, we must first understand normal, ageing-associated changes and compare this with changes due to disease.

In order to fully understand normal, ageing-associated changes, and thus determine what “healthy” and “unhealthy” ageing means, we need to compare saliva composition at an early age a well as in the later stages of life. Currently very little is known about salivary composition in neonates and how this changes through important childhood milestones such as tooth eruption, weaning and childhood dietary changes and with the onset of puberty. Any changes could signal the potential of saliva as a prognostic biomarker for both oral and systemic disease of childhood and development.

Saliva will be collected from children (from birth to puberty), before and after tooth eruption, with and without oral diseases (e.g. caries or mild gum disease as an early example of inflammation). Proteomic and glycomic analyses and an assessment of the oral microbiome will give baseline measurements and will allow us to determine if changes are associated with normal childhood development and the impact of mild disease. Where appropriate, questionnaires will be completed to relate the impact of health and lifestyle on biological changes.

A further, very novel, field of study which is of great interest to us is the study of exosomes (nanometre scaled, membrane enclosed vesicles containing molecules such as DNA, RNA and also proteins) and their potential as a novel source of biomarkers for prognostic/diagnostic markers of both oral and systemic disease, especially cancer. To date the composition of salivary exosomes has not been investigated in young children.

The outcomes from this study will feed into and inform our larger field of study investigating the proteomic, glycomic and microbiome profile of saliva across our lives and in subjects enduring chronic inflammation and infection. This information could lead to the identification of novel biomarkers and potentially early intervention in disease development.

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Northern England