MADISON, Wis. — Patients with swallowing problems caused by cancer radiation treatment or other diseases now have a new hope, all thanks to a new Phase 1 Trial at UW Health.

What You Need To Know

  • A Phase 1 UW Health dry mouth trial seeks to help cancer radiation patients cope with a painful problem

  • Dry mouth can cause dental and salivary gland concerns

  • Treatment uses cell therapy to help "shock salivary glands back to life"

  • Patients involved in the trial now have more saliva after treatment and returned to eating normal foods

Entering the exam room, UW Health radiation oncologist Dr. Randy Kimple was excited to see one pleased patient, Lee Marks, sitting on his medical chair.

“Have a little bit of saliva in your mouth?” Kimple asked his patient. 

“Oh, yeah. It’s awesome, a world of difference,” Marks said.

Marks, a head/neck cancer survivor, had suffered with a typical post radiation problem: the painful condition known as dry mouth.

“There really weren’t any good effective treatments, you know, that we had,” Kimple said. “I’m sure I told you (Marks) to drink more water, to suck out hard candy, and sucking on hard candy isn’t great for the teeth.”

It’s the reason Kimple, his lab and a team of top researchers looked into something novel.  

“Just incredibly excited about this new cell therapy that we’ve developed in our testing and trying in patients,” he said. “And we think it has a lot of potential.”

For Marks, the trial was life-changing, after living off only protein shakes for some time.

“I really like Italian food and so that was frustrating,” Marks said. “But that’s the way it goes, you know, what could you do about it, until this procedure came along? I was just thrilled.”

Scientists took cells from Marks’ hip and cuticle, then grew and re-injected them into his failing salivary glands.

“So this treatment we’re developing now is using your own cells to sort of shock the salivary glands back awake,” Kimple said.

All while reawakening Marks’ love of his favorite foods. The patient said he is closely following his doctor’s orders.

“Keep eating out,” Kimple said as he concluded the check-up.

To learn more about the trial, click here.