The Kate Edger Department of Mathematics

Multiscale modelling of salivary secretion

The goal of the Multiscale Modelling of Salivary Secretion Research Project is to study the components of salivary secretion, particularly salivary production.

Parotid salivary gland slice from Warner, J. D. et al. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol 295: G629-G640 2008;

Researchers in the Department of Mathematics collaborate with colleagues in Auckland and the United States of America on a large project funded by the National Institutes of Health (USA). The project aim is to construct a multiscale model of a prototypical salivary secretion unit and to test the role of several molecular and cellular elements in the secretion process.

The principal goal of the project is to study the components of salivary secretion, in particular those which affect saliva production.
Salivary gland dysfunction is a problem for millions of people and has a significant impact on their quality of life. The decreased ability to produce adequate levels of saliva has been associated with numerous subjective and objective functional deficits, including the sensation of oral dryness (xerostomia), difficulty with speaking, mastication and swallowing, and an increased susceptibility to caries development and opportunistic infections (eg, Candida albicans).


Treatment of salivary gland dysfunction are often only partially effective, frequently producing adverse side-effects and usually requiring lifelong use. An important step in improving these treatments is a thorough understanding of the molecular pathways involved in saliva secretion.

Our research group is constructing a multiscale mathematical model of a prototypical salivary gland secretory unit, an acinus and attached duct, spanning from molecular to tissue level properties. This is an iterative process: existing and new experimental data informs the model and the model is then used to test specific scientific questions which leads to new mechanistic understandings, which can then be used to refine the model.

Researchers at The University of Auckland