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Investigating new links in oral fluid and eating disorders

As part of our ongoing series, we are continuing to highlight research from our platform that has gone on to publication. In this way, we can gather insight about what the journey is like for researchers from the initial spark of inspiration, to the poster, and finally to a peer-reviewed paper. We recently sat down with Elzbieta Paszynska, a researcher from the Poznan University of Medical Sciences in Poland who first presented her findings at the European College for Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Congress in 2017 (poster pictured below). Her work went on to be published in BioMed Research International and Clinical Oral Investigations  in 2018. In this interview, we go over why interdisciplinary collaboration is so important and dive into the implications of her research for other fields.

Morressier: Can you briefly explain the origins of your research?

Paszynska: I am an operative clinician with credentials in dentistry. I am in contact mostly with patients and students, but also have crossover with psychiatry specialists via my university. Since we help our patients from both a dental and an overarching medical point of view, we started to become interested in eating disorders. These diseases are a huge problem in our civilization, which is why we believe it is essential to focus on how to develop dental care for these patients alongside their psychiatric care.

As I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist, my research does not center on the main disease or treatment, however there are still many ways I can help from a dental point of view, in collaboration with psychiatric treatment.

Morressier: What are the main problems you solve?

Paszynska: For us, from a dental point of view, this group is at high risk for oral diseases, both in soft tissues and dental tissues. They have nutritional problems, but also often have very unhealthy behaviors like vomiting, binging and purging. Everything above is connected to oral health. Clinically, eating disorders and their symptoms are already well-researched subjects in dental literature. The next step is how to link dental experiences to the main disease of an eating disorder. We don’t yet understand a lot of the mechanisms for how the human body reacts to the risky behaviors that occur in eating disorders. 

Our focus in this study was on saliva, and more specifically on the number of molecules in saliva. Salivary molecules may play an important role in eating disorders – maybe for prognosis, maybe for monitoring. We still don’t understand the role of many different molecules very well, especially peptides. Two such molecules are antioxidants and vaspin (VASP). Determination of total antioxidant status (TAS) and VASP in both biological material (serum and saliva) confirmed a relationship between biochemical changes and nutritional status in anorexia nervosa. For me, saliva is the easiest material for testing as it is not invasive or painful, so we should have more specialists focusing on it researching it, especially because we know that eating disorders are connected to saliva. 

Our findings suggest that VASP cannot be excluded from research as its increased concentration in saliva is an adaptive mechanism in reduced TAS resulting from diminished salivary secretion. It is therefore worth further investigations aimed at recognising the role of TAS and VASP in the saliva of underweight patients. 

The multi-localization of VASP in the human body suggests its role in the regulation of insulin level, food intake, and possibly as an inflammatory biomarker of periodontitis. The level of TAS results from reactive oxygen and nitrogen production. Clinically, this can translate into disturbances in the transmission of cellular signals.

Morressier: Do you think somewhere like the ECNP Congress is an important place for you to make new and diverse connections?

Paszynska: There are always fruitful discussions at these conferences, plus you are able to get in direct contact with the latest findings and researchers from different fields. It’s a good time for meeting and connecting and interdisciplinary collaboration, and it can be really inspiring. It’s an important message for young scientists that they should get in contact with other researchers from different fields. From meeting researchers even in the same field, we are better able to share our differing perspectives and learn from one another.

Morressier: What are the other benefits you see in sharing your research at conferences?

Paszynska: During the conference, I have a chance to arrange puzzles from obtained results and new ideas. Later on, after all the discussions, you have motivation to start something new. We published our data after the conference in a journal, but I was very happy that we could already share our first findings with others at the conference before publishing and get initial feedback.

Morressier: As a final question, what inspired you to start researching? Especially eating disorders and the dental complications arising from there.

Paszynska: Patients from eating disorders are a high-risk group in dentistry. My research can be interesting for dentists, but on the other hand, oral fluid can also be connected to general health and nutritional status. So what I am studying could be beneficial for knowing more about the general biological state of any patient.

Feature image credit by Geo Days on Unsplash

Elzbieta’s poster from the ECNP Congress in Paris in 2017
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