The American Dental Association Science & Research Institute, in collaboration with the University of North Carolina Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Disease, has been awarded a $130,000 grant from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation to evaluate the potential of saliva testing to monitor and predict the exacerbation of inflammatory bowel disease in pediatric patients.
The grant was presented to Kevin M. Byrd, D.D.S., Ph.D., ADASRI’s Volpe Research Scholar and senior manager of its Lab of Oral and Craniofacial Innovation, and Terrie Weaver, research associate at the lab. The project is part of the larger Tissue Repository for Inflammatory and Allergic Chronic GI Diseases: Learning in Pediatrics effort at the University of North Carolina.
“Our saliva is up to 99% water, but it also contains microbes, proteins, mucus and immune cells,” Dr. Byrd said. “Research has already indicated that the assortment of immune cells that are present changes when IBD flares up, which might be able to help doctors evaluate whether a patient’s condition is getting better or worse over time. Our team hopes that our work will bridge the gap between GI medicine and oral health and help children get the care they need more quickly.”
About 20% of the more than 6 million IBD patients worldwide were diagnosed during childhood, but this population is understudied compared with adult patients. Pediatric IBD patients typically experience more significant symptoms than adults and often need surgery within a few years of diagnosis. As many as 80% of children with IBD have sores or unusual inflammation in their mouths, which is also an understudied aspect of the disease.
The foundation awarded the grant through its Litwin IBD Pioneers initiative, which supports innovative clinical and translational research projects that have the potential to impact IBD treatment. The pilot program will assess immune cells in saliva samples from as many as 100 pediatric patients aged 7 to 17 to evaluate how effectively their disease is being managed and predict changes in symptom severity.
“We are excited to support the ADA in their pursuit of groundbreaking research,” said Caren Heller, M.D., chief scientific officer for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. “Saliva testing has the potential to change the way we think about diagnosing and managing IBD in pediatric patients. This initiative will address critical gaps in understanding the role of saliva in IBD.”
ADASRI’s team of gastrointestinal, pediatric and oral specialists will begin their research in September and share results in summer 2025. To learn more about ADASRI, visit ADA.org/adasri.