Will scientists soon be able to rebuild damaged organs? This bonsai-like structure is actually part of a salivary gland that has survived radiation treatment: a therapy for cancer that causes damage our bodies normally can’t repair. In particular, radiation destroys the nerves that instruct the gland to produce saliva. They die off and are often not replaced, leaving patients with a dry mouth, oral infections and difficulty eating. Here, researchers have identified a protein that safeguards the nerves (stained red) during radiation treatment allowing them and the surrounding gland tissue (stained green) to regenerate. The potential use of this protective protein is not confined to the mouth since similar nerves are found in many different organs. This research was done in mice but if the mechanism in humans is comparable perhaps radiation treatment for future generations will be less hazardous.
Written by Julie Webb