UCLA School of Dentistry Receives $15 Million from the NIH to Advance Saliva Diagnostics Research

Posted on: Tuesday, 10/17/2006

The UCLA School of Dentistry has received two research awards from the National Institutes of Health which, combined with the school's ongoing NIH-funded saliva research studies, are building UCLA's reputation as a center for excellence in oral fluid research.

A major five-year, $12.5-million UO1 grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, an arm of the NIH, will fuel the development of a functional prototype of the Oral Fluid NanoSensor Test (OFNASET), a handheld clinical device for point-of-care saliva diagnostics.

In addition, a five-year, $2.5-million NIH RO1 grant will support efforts to identify the diagnostic signatures of Sjögren's Syndrome in the saliva of individuals affected by that auto-immune disease.

"The UCLA School of Dentistry is proud to provide leadership in the national effort to investigate and innovate in the promising area of saliva diagnostics," said Dr. No-Hee Park, dean of the School of Dentistry.

David Wong, a professor in the division of oral biology and medicine and the associate dean of research at the UCLA School of Dentistry, the director of the UCLA Dental Research Institute and a member of UCLA's JonssonCancerCenter, is the principal investigator for both grants. 

Predating the new awards, the School of Dentistry's current saliva research studies supported by the NIH include the Human Salivary Proteome Project, the UCLACollaborativeOralFluidDiagnosticResearchCenter, and the Genomics and Proteomics for Progressing Oral Precancer study.

Earlier this year, as a product of those efforts, Wong and his colleagues announced that they had succeeded in standardizing a laboratory test that recognizes the key biological markers of oral cancer when present in saliva.

The goal of the new OFNASET project is to take UCLA's saliva-based oral cancer test out of the laboratory and move it into the clinical setting, namely dentists' and doctors' offices, in the form of a handheld testing device not much larger than a television remote control.

Chih-Ming Ho, the Ben Rich-Lockheed Martin Professor at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, is one of Wong's key collaborators on the OFNASET. 

"This new U01 grant will facilitate the interdisciplinary research effort between scientists and engineers to realize the application of modern technologies in a way that will revolutionize the clinical process of diagnosing oral cancer," Ho said.

UCLA's research into the saliva signatures of Sjögren's Syndrome and other diseases may also broaden the applicability of a future OFNASET device.

Nearly four million Americans have been diagnosed with Sjögren's Syndrome, a progressive auto-immune disease that affects women to men in a 9:1 ratio and results in a significant reduction in the quality of life for these individuals.

Supported by the new R01 grant, Wong and his team will lead an international, multi-institutional collaboration to employ state-of-the art proteomic and genomic technologies to harness diagnostic signatures from the saliva of Sjögren's Syndrome patients.

"Ultimately, we would like to see saliva diagnostics become as valuable as, and in some cases even more useful than, other commonly utilized tools when it comes to the early diagnosis of serious human diseases, whether oral cancer or Sjögren's Syndrome or some other disease," said Wong. 

The OFNASET project represents a collaborative partnership between the UCLA School of Dentistry and the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and also will involve Vincent Gau of GeneFluidics; Jim Down of Becton Dickinson; Elliot Abemayor of the UCLA Division of Head & Neck Cancer/Otolaryngology; Uttam Sinha of the University of Southern California; Nelson Rhodus of the University of Minnesota; and Bert O'Malley of the University of Pennsylvania.

Key individuals and institutions participating in the Sjögren's project along with the UCLA School of Dentistry include Joseph Loo of UCLA's Department of Biological Chemistry; David Elashoff of the UCLA School of Public Health; Philip Fox of the Sjögren's Foundation; Kathy Moser of the University of Minnesota; Jonathan Ship of New York University; Arjan Vissink of University Medical Center Groningen; and John Greenspan and Troy Daniels of the Sjögren International Collaborative Clinical Alliance at the University of California, San Francisco.

The UCLA School of Dentistry is dedicated to improving the oral health of the people of California, the nation and the world, and has established an international reputation for its teaching, research, patient care and public service initiatives. The school provides education and training programs that develop leaders in dental education, research, the profession and the community; conducts research programs that generate new knowledge, promote oral health and investigate the cause, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of oral disease; and delivers patient‑centered oral health care to the community and state. The school enrolls nearly 500 students and residents in a number of academic programs, including the four-year D.D.S program; the two-year D.D.S. program for foreign-trained dentists; M.S. and Ph.D. programs in oral biology; programs that combine D.D.S. with M.S., Ph.D. and M.B.A. degrees, and 13 postdoctoral/specialty training programs.