Friday, July 2, 2021

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) awarded Cristina Vidal, assistant professor in the Department of Operative Dentistry, a 5-year grant totaling over $700K for her research project studying the relationship between caries and the oral microbiome.

Caries is the most common chronic disease for children and adolescents and is also common among adults. This disease is caused by numerous factors, commonly attributed to diet and acid content in the mouth and their effects on the oral microbiome. These imbalances demineralize dental hard tissues, which allows for a carious lesion in the enamel of a tooth. With further demineralization, a cavity will develop.

Vidal’s research group has shown that the common narrative about how diet and acid content cause caries is more complex than originally thought. In particular, the team has highlighted how certain enzymes, namely matrix metalloproteases (MMPs), can cause greater dental decay, while other MMPs can help repair dentin tissues.

Vidal and her research group are exploring effective ways to stimulate and regenerate dental tissues using insights regarding how to activate and promote helpful MMPs and reduce the presence and activity of harmful MMPs.

Vidal’s hypothesis is that the changes in the oral microbiome that accompany caries progression affect gene- and protein-expression of specific MMPs, which may be related to changes in odontoblasts. To test this hypothesis, Vidal will study changes in odontoblasts and dentin organic matrix as caries progresses.

Jeff Banas, Vidal’s mentor for the project, said, “Dr. Vidal’s research may reveal novel mechanisms involved in caries progression to an advanced state, as well as offer insight into means for using the forthcoming mechanistic understanding to consider regeneration potential and new ideas for treatment approaches.”

This research could ultimately result in inventions that prevent caries progression and repair tissues damaged by caries, thus, reducing the need for extractions, tissue removal, and restorations.

The research project is supported by a K08 award from the NIH and the NIDCR. The K08 award is a career-development award for clinical investigators that allows them to conduct focused research with a designated mentor. Jeff Banas, David Drake, and Xian Jin Xie are co-investigators on the grant.