Progress and challenges in salivary gland tissue engineering—IBBME Visiting Lecture

September 5, 2017 @ 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
Donnelly Centre, Room 250 (Red Room)
160 College St
Toronto, ON M5S 3E2

Where’s Pavlov when you need him? Progress and challenges in salivary gland tissue engineering

Daniel Harrington, University of Texas

Daniel Harrington, PhD
Assistant Professor

Department of Diagnostic & Biomedical Sciences, School of Dentistry,
University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston (UTHealth)


Patients with head and neck cancer typically receive radiation therapy as part of their treatment.

Although highly effective in reducing the cancer burden, such therapy concurrently induces death of the nearby salivary glands, and ultimately leads to xerostomia, or “dry mouth” in these patients. With no effective salivary substitutes available, these cancer survivors face a poor bargain: extend their lives without a looming threat of cancer, but accept the significant oral decay and difficulty in eating and speaking, associated with lost salivary flow.

From a tissue engineering perspective, the salivary gland offers an intriguing challenge: how can we produce a branched, hollow structure, with gradients of cell and matrix along its length, and functional integration into nervous and vascular systems?

My talk will present our ongoing work with modified hyaluronan-based hydrogels to support the three-dimensional culture and organization of human primary salivary-derived stem/progenitor cell populations.


Dr. Daniel Harrington is an assistant professor in the Department of Diagnostic & Biomedical Sciences at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. His background is in materials science and engineering, and his research addresses the molecular design, synthesis, and characterization of polymeric and supramolecular biomaterials, in tissue engineering applications.

His PhD training was at Northwestern University with Sam Stupp, on the synthesis and characterization of self-assembling biomaterials. He was an NRSA Post-Doctoral Fellow at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, studying bladder tissue engineering in paediatric applications of spina bifida. He continued at Northwestern as a research assistant professor in urology, and extended his research to include cardiac tissue engineering and paediatric stem cell populations.

Dr. Harrington moved to Rice University from 2009-2016, and expanded his projects to include applications in medical conditions inspired by colleagues “across the street” at the Texas Medical Center, collectively the largest medical campus in the world. He contributes his materials experience in the design of hydrogels with micro- and nanoscale features to promote organized epitope display, or defined mechanical stability, in tissue engineering matrices. His collaborative projects bridge engineering, biology, and clinical pursuits in studies of cancer metastasis and soft tissue regeneration.

He has recently moved his laboratory to the UTHealth Dental School, where he continues to investigate the cell-ECM interface through custom biomanufacturing and composition derivatives of hydrogels.