‘A window on the body’ | UCI News

The so-called “diagnostic fluid of the future”, saliva is loaded with DNA, enzymes, hormones, immune system markers and other substances that make it a minimally invasive alternative biospecimen to blood for a dizzying array of medical, non-medical, and even commercial uses.

However, expertise is needed to decipher the biomarkers, many clinicians still do not collect saliva samples, and research into “sputum science” can literally be everywhere. This is where the UCI Interdisciplinary Salivary Biosciences Research Institute comes in.

Co-directed by Jenna Riis, Assistant Professor of Psychological Sciences, and Michael Hoyt, Clinical and Health Psychologist and Associate Professor of Population Health and Disease Prevention, IISBR conducts salivary bioscience research and educates, trains and consults with researchers, physicians, caregivers, veterinarians, psychologists and other professionals on the collection and analysis of saliva samples.

“IISBR serves as a hub for scientific collaboration and support,” says Riis. “It brings together researchers at all levels of training – from undergraduates to senior scientists – and from a wide range of disciplines, including medicine, public health, psychology and environmental health. And the IISBR promotes rigorous research through a scientific team approach. This is IISBR’s largest and most valuable contribution, helping to advance knowledge while promoting innovative interdisciplinary research and facilitating unique training and educational opportunities.

Hoyt adds that the institute is “involved in projects that come from all over the world. We have different functions that fall under our umbrella. One of them is to provide consulting, expertise, and laboratory services to people who do this work, especially people from all over UC, but really everywhere.

He finds it particularly “exciting that the institute has attracted the attention of academics from across the UCI. We have professors who show up and really master the full range of science. I have a medical oncologist who works on dietary changes with her patients, and we have people who study how metals from the environment enter people’s bodies. We have other people who work in the field of neuroscience. He really draws from different disciplines. He’s someone looking for a window on the body.

Among those seeking such a window is Riis, who studies the etiology of health disparities and the processes by which environmental factors and social experiences affect child development and health across the lifespan. .

“Salivary bioscience is central to this work because it allows me to examine the body’s response to adversity by examining changes in multiple physiological systems dynamically over time and with minimal burden on my participants,” says -she. “Saliva biomarkers also allow me to examine environmental exposures – such as pollutants, toxins and viruses – and their effects on mental and physical health.”

The director of the UCI Behavioral Medicine Research Laboratory and editor of the International Journal of Behavioral MedicineHoyt studies how individuals adapt psychologically and biobehaviourally to chronic diseases, particularly cancer.

“When we say ‘biobehavioral’, we start talking about the word ‘mechanisms’,” he explains. “What are the bridges between psychological and social factors and their impact under the skin? What is between the two dots we have connected? Maybe these things are more social, more psychological, more emotional, but they are also biological. So we’ve learned a lot about things like stress pathways and immune system pathways that connect mind and body. Psychologists and behavioral researchers have come a long way to integrate this knowledge and recognize that our interventions and treatments can alter these pathways to lead to better health outcomes.

Hoyt says salivary bioscience is increasingly becoming an integral part of the field.

“We take a biobehavioral approach to cancer survivorship,” he says. “For a long time, we’ve tried to understand different kinds of cancer-related outcomes – such as fatigue, depressive symptoms, ability to pursue life goals, chronic pain, cognitive changes, sleep problems, that sort of thing. many things – and we’ve done decades of research to understand the role of psychosocial factors like social support, relationships and our emotions. We can do this, in part, by using salivary bioscience as a window into biological processes .

He hopes the saliva will inform his current work with young adult cancer survivors.

“Psychologically, you can imagine how difficult it is to have cancer in their lives at a very unexpected time — and a very disruptive time in development,” Hoyt says. “So I tested an intervention we developed with young adults with testicular cancer after chemotherapy. It focuses on how we psychologically and socially help young men with testicular cancer understand what is important to them, how to pursue their goals, how to cope after cancer, and how to regulate the emotions aroused by their experience with cancer.

This research involves careful measurement of stress and immune system biomarkers from saliva to learn if and how the clinical intervention of UCI affects cancer-relevant biology as well as symptoms such as depression and anxiety. .

“Saliva is a very encouraging window because it’s easy to access,” says Hoyt. “It’s not intrusive. We don’t have to stick someone with a needle. You know, COVID moved the dialogue forward. People now understand that collecting saliva is better.

However, he warns, interpreting specific biomarkers requires expertise that is mostly limited to laboratories and health research entities such as UCI Health. And it will take further research to make saliva-based measurements more useful in clinical settings.

“We need to evolve what we call the translational spectrum,” says Hoyt. “We need to understand when it’s time to integrate this stuff into clinical practices.”

Pursuing translational research requires spreading the word and building relationships between scholars and practitioners across disciplines as well as the campus, healthcare system and beyond – which is another role of IISBR .

“You’ve probably heard the term ‘team science’ thousands of times,” Hoyt says. “There is nothing more you can do – you should not doing nothing – without understanding how different disciplines fit together. If you’re not thinking this way, you’ve probably missed something. So when we start talking about these biological mechanisms…god, I couldn’t do it without hitting all the aisles, if you will. I couldn’t do it without talking to my medical collaborators, my immunologist colleagues, the social scientists, the public health professionals, my biology colleagues. We need this team.

He is inspired by the direction that salivary biosciences are taking.

“We’re starting to look at things like genetic changes that we can see and test for in saliva that may put patients at particular risk for poorer outcomes,” Hoyt says. “We are testing this intervention and using saliva measurements to really see what kind of impact we have on the biology that might underline some of this.”

He encourages clinical researchers around the UCI and in various fields “to celebrate the potential of these markers to answer our questions and to begin to think about the usefulness of saliva in their own work. There are many windows in the body, which happens to be more easily accessible, and this is what gives it so much potential.

Riis fully agrees.

“The range of analytes we can measure in saliva is rapidly expanding,” she says. “We can already look at markers of several systems, including stress and sex hormones, markers of immune function, and genetic and epigenetic indices. Additionally, because saliva can be self-collected in the field, salivary bioscience offers unique opportunities to learn more about the health and well-being of communities in real time – making the potential application of salivary bioscience to very exciting health surveillance, monitoring, evaluation and interventions.”

IISBR Summer Spit Camp

Professors, postdoctoral researchers and fellows will participate in the IISBR Spit Camp on August 10-11 at the Social Ecology Campus 1. IISBR core professors will lecture on theoretical perspectives, the use of oral fluid as a biological specimen and strategies for writing articles, presentations and proposals. A laboratory component provides hands-on, supervised training in sample processing, saliva immunoassays, and kinetic reaction assays. An optional third day on Aug. 12 features Riis leading attendees in lectures and guided practices with real saliva data. More info: https://iisbr.uci.edu/spit-camp-1/.

If you would like to find out more about supporting this or other UCI activities, please visit the Brilliant Future website at https://brilliantfuture.uci.edu. Launched publicly on October 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for the UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and raising $2 billion in philanthropic investments, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more . The School of Social Ecology and the Public Health Program play a vital role in the success of the campaign. Learn more about https://brilliantfuture.uci.edu/uci-school-of-social-ecology and https://brilliantfuture.uci.edu/school-of-population-and-public-health.

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