Drilling, filling, bonding, bleaching---if that's your idea of dentistry, it's time to take a closer look. Dental researchers today are as likely to study genes as gingivitis, and rather than focusing just on teeth, they're turning their attention to structures of the whole head and face. Of course, cavities and cosmetic dentistry still get a fair amount of attention, too. This whole spectrum of dental research trends is reflected in presentations researchers from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry will make at the annual meeting of the International Association of Dental Research in Vancouver, British Columbia, March 10-13.
A complete list of presentations by U-M faculty and students available upon request.
Fixing faces and fractures. Facial deformities, fractures that won't heal---these serious medical problems usually require surgery and extensive bone grafts. Imagine how much simpler it would be to treat these problems with genes that help build bones. Renny Franceschi and Bruce Rutherford, both faculty members in the U-M School of Dentistry, are in the early stages of research aimed at reaching that goal. One of the first steps is to find ways of delivering the proper genes into the body and getting them to work as they should. Franceschi and Rutherford are working with genes for bone morphogenetic proteins, which induce bone formation. In recent animal experiments, they showed it was possible to use a standard gene delivery method---a virus modified to be harmless---to get bone morphogenetic protein genes into the body. Once inside, the genes functioned normally to induce bone formation. Next, the researchers plan to fine-tune the system to make it work as efficiently as possible. Once this is accomplished, the next step will be to use the gene delivery system to try to repair fractures and skull deformities in animals.