Salivary glands are one of many small organs that we give little thought to until they fail, and then it becomes difficult to think of anything else. Just like every other tissue in the aging body, that failure becomes more likely with each passing year, with the accumulation of molecular damage and its consequences. One of the potential approaches to this general category of gradual organ failure is the generation of new organs or new functional tissue for transplantation, building tissues in bioreactors from the starting point of cells. This can in principle fix damage that is internal to an organ by replacing that organ entirely, or augment function of a failing organ with the use of tissue patches. The aged environment and its harmful influence on organ function through signaling will remain a challenge, however, until more general rejuvenation therapies are widely deployed.
Japanese researchers have been working on the tissue engineering of functional salivary glands for some years now, and the paper noted below reports on their latest success. Like most groups in the field, they are focused on discovering the necessary signals and environment that can direct cells to