New Treatments for Swallowing Disorders

Study Could Lead to New Treatments for Swallowing Disorders
June 14, 2022

The average human swallows 500-700 times a day. Imagine if each one of those swallows was a struggle.

For many who suffer from esophageal motility disorders like dysphagia that affect the way the muscles in the esophagus deliver food and liquids to the stomach, the act of swallowing can be difficult or even painful. It can turn something as simple as a sip of water into a violent fit of coughing. Brought on by conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and even just old age, these disorders can lead to problems like dehydration, malnutrition, pneumonia and choking, and they affect the quality of life of approximately half a million Americans every year and as many as one in five individuals over the age of 50.

The causes of these conditions are not well understood by medical science, but a study published this month in the journal Cell Reports by a team of scientists, led by doctoral candidate Tatiana Coverdell, John Campbell, a molecular neuroscientist and biology professor, and Stephen Abbott, a pharmacology professor with UVA’s School of Medicine, identify the unique genetic fingerprint of the nerve cells that govern the motor function of the esophagus. 

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Photo: John Campbell, a molecular neuroscientist and biology professor with the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (left), doctoral candidate Tatiana Coverdell (center) and Stephen Abbott, a pharmacology professor with UVA’s School of Medicine (right), have discovered a neural pathway from the brain to the esophagus that opens a new avenue of approach to the treatment of esophageal motility disorders. Photo by: Molly Angevine