Wang earns grant to study disease that affects half of U.S. adults

Wang earns grant to study disease that affects half of U.S. adults

Huizhi Wang, M.D., Ph.D.

Periodontal disease is a common struggle for many Americans, affecting half of U.S. adults over 30. Now, a researcher at the UofL School of Dentistry is embarking on a promising study to help control it after earning a nearly $2 million grant.

Huizhi Wang, M.D., Ph.D., of the Department of Oral Immunology and Infectious Diseases at UofL, earned the five-year grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health.

A chronic inflammatory disease, periodontal disease affects the gum tissue and bone supporting the teeth. If left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss. Wang said people can get the disease even if they take good care of their teeth.

Research has shown it also is associated with other chronic inflammatory diseases, and may be linked with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and stomach and colon cancer. In his previous research, Wang discovered an association between P.gingivalis and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.

Periodontal disease is caused by the body’s uncontrolled inflammatory immune response to bacteria in the mouth, specifically P. gingivalis. Wang said everyone has lots of different bacteria and fungi in their mouth, but in some people, the immune system overreacts to P. gingivalis with ferocious inflammation. It is the inflammation that causes periodontis, not the bacteria.

He and his team have identified an intracellular molecule, serum glucocorticoid-induced kinase-1 (SGK1), that may have anti-inflammatory properties. SGK1 is a molecule usually focused on metabolism, but preliminary evidence has indicated it also may be involved in the body’s anti-inflammatory responses.

Wang will set out to see if SGK1’s abilities will expand outside a cell. “Will this molecule work in a different system? That’s what we want to find out,” he said.

In the long term, Wang’s work could pave the way for the development of novel anti-inflammatory agents to reduce or prevent not only P. gingivalis-induced tissue destruction, but other chronic inflammatory disorders in general.