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NIH grant to fund study of oral health in postmenopausal women

Female dentist and female patient looking at X-rays.

UB researchers have received a $4 million grant to study the oral microbiome in postmenopausal women.

By PATRICIA DONOVAN

Published June 12, 2014

“We expect our results to lay the foundation for the study of the association of the oral microbiome to the development of other chronic diseases of aging.”
Jean Wactawski-Wende, professor
Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health

UB researchers have received an interdisciplinary bioinformatics grant of nearly $4 million from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health to conduct a prospective study of the oral microbiome and periodontitis in postmenopausal women.

It is research that its investigators say is on the cutting edge of science.

The study will investigate a critical gap in knowledge of the composition and role of the oral microbiome, comprised of the bacteria found in our mouths. It will consider, in particular, the microbiome of the subgingival area beneath the gums and especially between the gums and the basal part of the crowns of the teeth.

 Researchers theorize that certain compositions of this diverse microbiome will be associated with periodontal disease prevalence, severity and progression over time.

The study will involve investigators from the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, School of Dental Medicine, School of Public Health and Health Professions, UB’s New York State Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, and the new Genomic Medicine Network, co-led by UB and the New York Genome Center. 

The study’s principal investigator is Jean Wactawski-Wende, professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, School of Public Health and Health Professions, and director of the Women’s Health Initiative’s Buffalo Center.

“To our knowledge, there is no prospective epidemiologic study as large and rich with available data resources that can address the cutting-edge questions we propose here on the oral microbiome and its relationship to periodontitis in postmenopausal women,” says Wactawski-Wende.

“We expect our results to lay the foundation for the study of the association of the oral microbiome to the development of other chronic diseases of aging,” she says.

The study will build on existing data from the Buffalo OsteoPerio Study, a study ancillary to the Buffalo Women’s Health Initiative that involved a well-characterized cohort of postmenopausal women from Western New York. The baseline study was conducted from 1997 to 2001, with a five-year follow-up between 2002 and 2006.

“We will bring the subjects back about 15 years post-baseline to look at how their microbiome has changed over time,” explains Wactawski-Wende.

Researchers will use frozen subgingival plaque samples from that study collected at baseline and post-baseline at year five; data from standardized oral exams that will characterize the extent of subjects’ periodontal disease; and extensive information on personal factors (e.g., smoking, dietary intake, obesity, diabetes, hormone use) and overall health status.

“This work is on the cutting edge of science,” notes co-principal investigator Robert J. Genco, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Oral Biology, School of Dental Medicine. “Periodontal disease is one of the most common diseases in older adults,” says Genco. “It involves altered host immune responses to subgingival insult by a complex olymicrobial biofilm that is not completely understood. New techniques to characterize this biofilm, made available very recently, will permit us to conduct this research.”

These techniques involve Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) using culture-independent techniques to identify 16S rRNA genes and allow for a more complete and detailed characterization of the microbial composition and diversity of the human oral cavity, Wactawski-Wende says.

In addition to their faculty roles, Wactawski-Wende serves as vice provost for strategic initiatives and research advancement, and Genco directs the UB Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR).

Study co-investigators are Yijun Sun, assistant professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology; Michael Buck, assistant professor, Department of Biochemistry, and director of the UB Stem Cell Sequencing/Epigenomics Center (WNYSTEM); and Michael LaMonte, assistant professor, and Amy Millen, associate professor, both of the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health.