Research News

Posted on: Wednesday, 10/21/2015


Study Finds that a Protein that Helps Suppress Cancer Fades as We Age

Dr. No-Hee Park, dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry, and his research team have discovered that a protein that serves as a suppressor of cancer diminishes in skin and mouth epithelial cells as the human body ages.

The team has been studying p53, a tumor suppressor protein known as “the guardian of the genome” because of its involvement in DNA repair, cell cycle regulation and cellular deterioration. They have concluded that maintaining levels of p53 as one ages may provide a therapeutic clue to preventing cancer development.

Their research, which was published online by the journal Aging Cell, found that in epithelial cells lining the skin and the mouth, the level of p53 is reduced, rather than enhanced when cells age.

Epithelial cells line the major cavities of the body, including most organs, such as the mouth, stomach, small intestine, kidney, and pancreas. These cells have a set level of p53 that provides protection from environmental factors and ensures their wellbeing. With less p53, older epithelial cells have a harder time maintaining the integrity of their genetic material when they encounter carcinogens, which allows cancer to develop.

Park and his team also reported that in humans, the level of p53 in skin and mouth epithelial cells decreased with age by epigenetic (external and environmental) factors, not by the changes of the p53 DNA sequence.

Read the full press release on the team’s study.

Dr. Shi Explains Mechanism that Makes His Mouthwash so Effective Against Tooth Decay

wenyuan shiIn 2011, UCLA’s Dr. Wenyuan Shi developed a mouthwash that could eliminate the bacteria that is the principal cause of tooth decay.

A new study led by Dr. Shi, Chair of the Section of Oral Biology, describes more precisely the mechanism that makes the mouthwash’s active ingredient so effective. His team’s research was published in the June issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and explains how a specifically targeted antimicrobial peptide, or STAMP, known as C16G2 works to eradicate only the harmful acid-producing Streptococcus mutans bacteria, the main cause of tooth decay, without disturbing the benign and beneficial bacteria in the mouth. The research, published in the June issue (PDF) of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Read full press release on the study.

Nanodiamonds Might Prevent Tooth Loss After Root Canals

A research team compiled of researchers from the School of Dentistry has found that using nanodiamonds to fortify a material used in root canal procedures could significantly improve outcomes for patients. The team’s findings are published in the peer-reviewed journal ACS Nano.

Each year, more than 15 million root canal procedures are performed in the United States. Dentists’ goal is to save their patients’ teeth from infected dental “pulp” — the part of the tooth that includes blood vessels and nerve tissue. During a root canal, inflamed dental pulp is removed and the empty space is then filled in with a polymer called gutta percha, which is used in part because it does not react within the body. But some root canals don’t entirely remove the infection, and residual infection after root canals can lead to tooth loss.

The team decided to load antibiotics onto nanodiamonds – tiny particles formed as byproducts of diamond refining and mining – to combat infection. The drug-reinforced nanodiamonds, when combined with the gutta percha, effectively prevented bacteria growth.

Read the full press release.  Photo credit: American Chemical Society/Dong-Keun Lee.

Nanodiamond Drug Combinations Optimize Cancer Therapy

Dr. Dean Ho, Professor of Oral Biology and Medicine, collaborated with Dr. Chih-Ming Ho, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, to develop a revolutionary approach that brings together traditional drugs and nanotechnology-enhanced medications to create safer and more effective treatments.

The team developed a powerful new tool to address drug resistance and dosing challenges in cancer patients. The tool, Feedback System Control.II, or FSC.II, considers drug efficacy tests and analyzes the physical traits of cells and other biological systems to create personalized “maps” that show the most effective and safest drug-dose combinations.

Their results are published in the peer-reviewed journal ACS Nano. Read the full press release.

Obstacles Accessing Oral Healthcare

Dr. Jim Crall, Professor and Chair of the Division of Public Health and Community Dentistry, is a co-author on a study about the obstacles that low-income adults and children face in accessing oral healthcare in California. The study, funded by the First 5 LA grant that we received in 2012, showed that low-income adults and children who are able to see a dentist at the same location as their primary care doctor are more likely to get dental care. However, almost three out of five community health clinics in California either don’t offer oral health services or, if they do, the nearest facility is sometimes too far to reach for many patients.

Read the full press release on the UCLA Newsroom.


Research Makes Cover of Journal, Stem Cell

Dr. Kang Ting, Professor and Chair of the Division of Growth and Development, had his research appear on the cover of the October 2015 issue of the prestigious research journal, Stem Cell. The article is titled; “Human Perivascular Stem Cells and Nell-Like Protein-1 Synergistically Enhance Spinal Fusion in Osteoporotic Rats.”






Edible Sensor Will Help Track Medication Adherence

Dr. Honghu Liu, Professor of Public Health and Community Dentistry, received an R01 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, which runs from now until July 31, 2020 and totals $4 million.

The grant supports a research project titled, “Measuring and Monitoring Adherence to ART with Pill Ingestion Sensor System”, which will study Information Technology (IT)-based pill ingestible sensor system. The system is the most cutting-edge IT approach that has evolved from Medication Event Monitoring System (MENS) and wireless Wisepill methodologies, for measuring and monitoring adherence to antiretroviral medications among HIV+/AIDS patients.

The team, made up of researchers from Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Nebraska Medical Center, Yale University and Harvard University, will use the FDA-approved Proteus Digital Health Feedback (PDHF) system to measure the bioavailability of over-encapsulated antiretrovirals (ARVs) and to test and identify approaches that optimize the use of this measuring and monitoring system.

The system is an exciting new technology that involves a tiny edible, ingestible sensor that is over-encapsulated along with prescribed medication. The sensor, activated by ingestion, is sensed by a patch worn by the patient with an embedded monitor and sensor. The monitor sends a Bluetooth signal to a mobile device, which in turn sends an encrypted message to a central server, thus effecting real-time monitoring that a dose, has been taken.

The team will evaluate the feasibility, acceptability, and sustainability of using the PDHF system; assess the accuracy of the PDHF system in measuring adherence to ART; and evaluate the efficacy of the PDHF system for monitoring and leveraging adherence to ART.

This grant is a significant step forward in helping to measure and monitor medication adherence in HIV+/AIDS patients and more importantly, in helping to develop real-time interventions in a population that requires heightened medical surveillance.

Studying Osteoporosis in Space

Faculty members, Drs. Kang Ting, Ben Wu, and Jin Hee Kwak, are involved in an exciting new project with NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. The team will conduct the world's "very-first" long-term bone study of rodents in space to test the ability of NELL-1, a bone-forming molecule, to treat osteoporosis.

Dr. Ting formerly discovered NELL-1, Dr. Wu modified the NELL-1 molecule to make it useful for treating osteoporosis, and Dr. Kwak, as Dr. Ting's mentee for 6 years in translational research, is in charge of the daily operations. The cost of the space mission approximates $133 million.

Read full press release from the UCLA Newsroom. Photo courtesy of UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center.

Preventing Caries in Young Children

Dr. Francisco Ramos-Gomez, Professor in the Section of Pediatric Dentistry, received an R01 grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, which continues his work with the Center to Address Children’s Oral Health Disparities (CANDO).

The project titled, “BEhavioral EConomics for Oral health iNnovation or BEECON”, is collaboration between UCSF and UCLA, and funded up to $4.8 million. This project is one of eight projects, out of 68 submissions, awarded nationwide. Dr. Ramos-Gomez from UCLA, along with Dr. Stuart Gansky, Professor of Biostatistics at UCSF and Dr. James Kahn, Professor of Health Economics at UCSF are all designated as Principal Investigators on the BEECON project. UCLA is subcontracted for the grant, which was awarded for $2 million over five years.

The team will use various methods to design incentives that promote caregiver behaviors to prevent caries in young children, assess child oral health outcomes, and evaluate cost-effectiveness of the intervention. The project will enroll underserved, low-income Hispanic/Latino families with children 0-5 years of age in Early Head Start and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition programs in Los Angeles County. Previous studies have shown that health education is insufficient to make a lasting impact and sustainable health behavioral changes. Despite growing evidence that small, cost-effective interventions leveraging theories and insights from behavioral economics can promote behavior change; this will be the first time they are applied to oral health interventions.

Grant to Accelerate Development of Tissue Regenerative Products

Dr. Ben Wu, Professor and Chair of the Division of Advanced Prosthodontics, recently received a planning grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Dr. Wu, along with Dr. Michael Longaker, Professor and Director of Stem cell Institute from the Stanford University will act as PIs of the project. The additional key investigators from the School of Dentistry include; Cun-Yu Wang, Dean Ho, Min Lee, Kang Ting, Sotirios Tetradis, David Wong and Chia Soo.

 This team has been selected for a Phase I, year-long planning grant, with the opportunity to receive funding for a Phase II grant that would run for 3-4 years beyond that. If successful in the first two phases the team could potentially be funded for another 4-5 years.

 The overall goal of the Phase I planning grant will be to develop a collaborative resource center that will accelerate the product development of tissue regenerative products to restore dental oral and craniofacial tissues. Deficiencies of these tissues lead to tremendous deficits that impact essential daily functions such as speech, swallowing, smiling, and chewing, and they severely impact the quality of life with dire social-economical and psychological consequences. The UCLA-Stanford team will direct critical resources to promote the timely translation of amazing science into practical public benefits.

Phase II Funding Received to Continue Stomach Cancer Detection Tool

Dr. David Wong, Associate Dean for Research, received Phase II funding from the National Institutes for Health’s Common Fund’s Extracellular RNA Communication program. He received Phase I funding in 2013 to study biological markers in saliva to attempt to develop a tool for detecting stomach cancer.

After going through competitive review, Dr. Wong received the Phase II funding with an additional $89,000 supplement.




Catalyzing New International Collaborations


A team led by Dr. Dean Ho, Professor of Oral Biology and Medicine, was recently awarded a highly competitive grant from the National Science Foundation as part of the Catalyzing New International Collaborations (CNIC) program. The project is titled, "Interrogating Nanodiamond-Cellular Interactions", where Dr. Ho will act as Principal Investigator and Dr. Minh C. Tran, Director of Curriculum and Academic Enrichment, will serve as a collaborator on the project.

As part of the grant, Dr. Ho, Dr. Tran, and a team of School of Dentistry students will travel to Taipei to meet with collaborators at the Schools of Dentistry and Medicine at the National Taiwan University (NTU) to develop novel strategies to examine nanodiamond biocompatibility at the single-cell level in an effort to design more effective approaches to cancer treatment. In addition, this UCLA-NTU collaboration will be result in the production of a comic book entitled, "Nanodiamond Nora and Neal" which will serve as an educational resource for K-12 students at partner institutions in both the US and Taiwan.