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NIH awards $2M grant to ADA Science & Research Institute, University of Pennsylvania to study oral mucosa

Work focuses on barrier function of oral epithelium during periodontal disease

August 24, 2021

By Mary Beth Versaci

The American Dental Association Science & Research Institute, together with the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, will examine the mechanisms that maintain and disrupt the barrier function of oral epithelium in the presence of periodontal disease and peri-implantitis.

Photo of Stella (Styliani) Alimperti, Ph.D.
Dr. Alimperti
Stella (Styliani) Alimperti, Ph.D., a project leader with the ADASRI, and Dana Graves, D.D.S., D.M.Sc., a professor of periodontics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, will serve as co-principal investigators of a four-year, $2,269,994 grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research for their research project titled "Regulation of Epithelial Barrier."

Periodontal diseases are characterized by the loss of homeostasis between the host and surrounding bacteria, induction of inflammation and bone resorption. The regulatory pathways involved in oral cellular continuity in these disease states have not been thoroughly explored, and this project seeks to fill that gap.

"The oral sulcular and gingival epithelium provides an important barrier function against bacteria or their products, which can break through this barrier to cause inflammation of the tissues that surround a tooth or implant, leading to bleeding and preceding periodontitis and peri-implantitis," Dr. Alimperti said. "Ultimately, the proposed study will shed light on oral epithelial barrier function related to peri-implantitis and periodontal diseases and may provide future targets to better maintain homeostasis on mucosal surfaces."

Researchers will identify mechanisms that control intercellular continuity and investigate the role of several molecular targets that contribute to continuity and function. They will also investigate how cellular attachment to titanium may affect intercellular continuity in order to learn about the processes that are important in peri-implantitis.

"I am excited for the opportunity to combine and utilize novel in vitro and in vivo experimental systems to better understand mechanisms that maintain or disrupt barrier function relevant to periodontal disease and peri-implantitis," Dr. Alimperti said.

Photo of Eun-Jin Lee, Ph.D.
Dr. Lee
The multidisciplinary team working on the project also includes Eun-Jin Lee, Ph.D., a postdoc researcher with the ADASRI, as well as other researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

"We are very excited for Dr. Alimperti and the recognition this award brings to the importance of cellular mechanisms in periodontitis and peri-implantitis," said Marcelo Araujo, D.D.S., Ph.D., CEO of the ADASRI and chief science officer of the ADA. "This groundbreaking work will lead the way for the development of improved interventions in the dental industry."