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Faculty Research Areas

Areas of Research at UTHealth School of Dentistry

Research Interest Researcher
Oral Diagnosis, oral medicine, oral pathology, oral radiology and patient care studies Adibi, Shawn
Dr. Akyalcin, D.D.S., Ph.D. mainly has a clinically oriented research focus. His areas of interest include orthodontic treatment mechanics, imaging, digital diagnosis and treatment planning, facial and smile esthetics, and materials science. His laboratory investigates the use and application of various technological advancements in orthodontics and craniofacial imaging. He is also working closely with graduate residents and dental students in a broad range of topics to help identify common clinical problems that clinicians encounter in practice such as relapse, esthetic concerns, and other adverse effects of orthodontic treatment philosophies.  Akyalcin, Sercan
Dr. Neumann's current work involves clinical teaching and she directs three didactic courses with a focus in prevention of oral diseases and risk assessment. Her research interests include genetic susceptibility to head and neck cancers, caries diagnosis and management by risk assessment. Candia Solari Neumann, Ana Cristina
The research in his lab focusing on studying the genetics of craniofacial development, with focus on cleft lip and palate. His current project is the development of a conditional knockout mouse model to study the effects on the CRISPLD2 gene in craniofacial development. The CRISPLD2 gene has been shown to be associated with nonsyndromic cleft lip and palate, and recently, Dr. Hecht’s lab has shown that this gene is critical for normal palate and jaw formation in zebrafish. Dr. Chiquet hopes to delineate the role of this gene in craniofacial development utilizing the mouse model. Chiquet, Brett
My lab engineers bone-forming cartilage for implantation into skeletal defects. We have shown that this cartilage heals holes drilled in the skulls of mice including excellent vascularization and integration.  They also form little growth-plate-like areas with zones and mineralization. In immunohistological studies,  VEGF and IHH were also found to be present in these growth plates. We use two bioreactors--both of which were developed at NASA--to grow the cartilage in 3-D.  One provides mechanical stimulation and one does not.  The cartilage formed in these two bioreactors is being compared.  We are also working on differentiating cartilage from mouse bone marrow stem cells, since our ultimate goal is to be able to provide implants to a patient made from a patient’s bone marrow cells.  Next, human bone marrow cells. Duke, P. Jackie
The research in his lab focuses on studying imid-azoline compounds as novel treatment for metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Dr. Edwards investigates the mechanism by which mox-onidine, and a novel compound S43126, regulates blood pressure and insulin secretion. His lab uses Zucker Diabetic Fatty rats as a model to understand the mechanism by which S43126 simultaneously decreases both blood pressure, and blood glucose levels in these animals following treatment. The implication is that imidazoline compounds could be devel-oped as possible single agent therapy for some diabetics with high blood pressure. His lab also uses cell lines such as PC12 and A7R5 to understand the cross-talk between insulin and imidazoline receptor signaling pathways. Preliminary results show that cross-talk occur at the level of signaling molecules IRS1,4, PKB and MAPK. Another research area that his lab focuses on is the possible role of a novel Parotid Hormone in regulating calcium home-ostasis and fluid flow in odontoblasts, and insulin regulation in beta cells. Regulation of fluid flow in odontoblasts residing in the pulp of teeth has implication for tooth decay. Inhibi-tion of fluid flow through teeth renders it more susceptible to decay. Edwards, Lincoln
The research in his lab focuses on studying genetic and epigenetic factors that cause congenital jaw anomalies and cleft palate. Dr. Fakhouri investigates the molecular role of IRF6 and TWIST1 transcription factors in craniofacial development during pregnancy. His lab uses mice as an animal model to understand how a tumor suppressor protein IRF6 - expressed in epithelial cells, genetically interacts with a proto-oncogenic protein TWIST1 -expressed in adjacent cranial neural crest (CNC) cells. These CNC cells are the progenitor cells that give rise to cartilage and bone of the upper and lower jaw.  One of the questions that his lab is interested in answering is why the murine embryos and pups that are double heterozygous for Irf6 and Twist1, have mandibular abnormalities, i.e. micrognathia (small mandible) and agnathia (no mandible), while the single heterozygotes do not. His preliminary results showed that the endothelin-1 and endothelin-receptor type A signaling pathway mediates the molecular cascades between Irf6 and Twist1 in a non-cell autonomous fashion. Another research area that his lab focuses on is bioinformatic analysis and modeling at the genome-wide level to understand how developmentally regulated genes are wired through feedback loops. This will allow his lab to identifying novel regulatory pathways and genes involved in craniofacial development and to develop therapeutic approaches that target protein stability or degradation. Fakhouri, Walid
The Effect of Non-Surgical Periodontal Therapy on Glycemic Control and Bacterial Levels in a Mexican-American Population with Type 2 Diabetes Gay, Isabel
Yasmine Haddad is a dental scientist with a research interest in oral cancer biology. Her clinical research is focuses on identifying risk factors and determin-ing the prevalence of oral premalignant lesions (Leukoplakia, Erythroplakia, and Speckled Leukoplakia) in patients admitted to UTSD at Houston. The goal of her research is to improve the differential diagnosis and achieve earlier detection of oral squamous cell carcinoma for UTSD patients. Haddad, Yasmine
Dr. Hecht is a board certified PhD Medical Geneticist with extensive clinical expertise in common birth defects and gene discovery studies in complex birth defects including nonsyndromic cleft lip and palate, nonsyndromic clubfoot and single gene disorders such as pseudoachondroplasia, a dwarfing condition.  We have translated our gene discoveries in animal models and defined the mutational effects on the pathophysiology using next generation technologies.  For example, we have shown that genetic variation in CRISPLD2 is associated with human nonsyndromic cleft lip and palate and that perturbation of CRISPLD2 gene expression cause orofacial abnormalities in zebrafish.  We continue to identify the genetic pathways in which CRISPLD2 plays a role in craniofacial development using both zebrafish and mice.  We are also using next generation technologies to identify the genetic variation contributing to clefting in families.  Our other research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms that contribute to the pathology that underlies pseudoachondroplasia, a dwarfing condition. We have shown that mutations in cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP), a large extracellular matrix protein, are the cause of this dwarfing condition. COMP mutations cause a dominant negative effect such that the mutant protein cannot be exported into the extracellular matrix and is retained in the ER of growth plate chondrocytes.  Using our transgenic MT-COMP mouse, we defined the molecular mechanisms that contribute to MT-COMP retention and are assessing therapeutic interventions to reduce the intracellular load of MT-COMP. Hecht, Jacqueline T.
The research in his lab focuses on studying craniofacial birth defects such as cleft lip and palate using mouse models. His group is investigating how cellular metabolism affects craniofacial development and diseases. Iwata, Junichi
Using biochemical profiling and proteomic approaches, Dr. Jeter’s laboratory identifies molecules in body fluids (e.g., blood, saliva) indicative of disease status, progression or outcome.  These biomarkers, when validated in larger patient populations, will be developed into a non-invasive diagnostic test for screening and monitoring patients.  Current work in the lab focuses on traumatic brain injury, with application to craniofacial trauma and wound healing. Jeter, Cameron
Maxillofacial prosthetic (clinical trial, color stability, physical and mechanical properties of elastomers)
Prosthodontics (clinical trial, implant, crown, color stability , soft liner, physical and mechanical properties of dental materials)
Kiat-amnuay, Sudarat
There are two primary areas of research in my laboratory. In the first, we are interested in understanding fundamental immunobiological properties that control and regulate mucosal T cell responses, primarily using murine animal models. Active areas of research include studies of immunity in intestinal and oral sites, especially with regard to the events that influence T cell activation and inflammation. These include studies aimed at defining the effects of stimulatory and costimulatory signals in the activation of T cells in response to foreign antigen and viruses. The second area of research involves studies examining the integrated bi-directional effects of immune-endocrine interactions. In these experiments, the action of neuroendocrine hormones of the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis is being studied for their potential to regulate the immune response. Similarly, we are interested in determining how the immune system participates in the control of neuroendocrine function and metabolism, particularly with regard to thyroid hormone regulation. Klein,John R.
The main focus of Dr. Letra’s research is to understand the molecular mecha-nisms underlying complex birth defects in humans, including birth defects such as cleft lip/palate and dental anomalies. She is currently recruiting individuals with dental anomalies for her studies. Both cleft lip/palate and dental anomalies cause great distress to affected patients and families and are a significant health care burden. Using sophisticated genetic analysis technologies, Dr. Letra’s studies aim to identify gene variants that may contribute to each of these conditions in humans. Moreover, Dr. Letra’s lab uses functional assays to investigate the biological effects un-derlying these gene variants in vivo and in vitro, in an attempt to further understand a given gene’s role in the aforementioned conditions. Another aspect of Dr. Letra’s research is to understand the molecular mechanisms involved in inflammatory conditions of endodontic origin such as apical periodontitis. Letra, Ariadne
His research focuses on mecha-nisms of autoimmune diseases, and roles of immune system in reproduction. In the first set of research, his group developed a unique rat model for anti-GBM glomerulonephritis and provided the first convincing evidence that this disease can be induced by T cell alone. Currently, his group is investigating how a novel dendritic cell population terminates pre-existing autoimmune diseases through induction of apoptosis in autoreactive T cells. They believe that this mechanism may lead to development of a therapeutic strategy for treating autoimmune diseases. In the second set of research, his team is ex-amining how immune molecules such as cytokines regulate physiological process such as ovulation and tissue remodeling in the ovaries. Lou, Yahuan
My laboratory is investigating the role of the family of glycophosphoproteins comprising osteopontin (OPN), bone sialoprotein (BSP), dentin matrix protein 1 (DMP1), dentin sialophosphoprotein (DSPP) and matrix extracellular phosphoglycoprotein (MEPE) - small integrin-binding ligand N-linked glycoproteins (SIBLINGs)- in biology of oral cancer and other head and neck cancers. From their detection in various human cancers to the demonstration of their key functional roles during malignant transformation, invasion and metastasis, the SIBLINGs are proteins with potential as diagnostic and prognostic tools, as well as new therapeutic targets. Recently, we not only reported the upregulation of BSP, DSPP, and OPN, in oral squamous cell carcinomas (OSCCs) but also determined that oral premalignant lesions (OPLs) expressing DSPP, with or without BSP and/or OPN, have 4-fold propensity for transition to OSCC within 2 years than OPLs expressing BSP and/or OPN alone. Furthermore, DSPP expression at histologically-negative resection margins of primary OSCC predicts recurrence at the primary site within 2 years of initial surgical treatment. These proteins may therefore identify patients who could benefit from more extensive resection, or from adjunct treatments such as radiotherapy for primary OSCCs. We are currently dissecting the functional and mechanistic pathways of SIBLING activity in oral cancer as well as investigating the interaction of BSP and DSPP with the HPV16 oncoproteins (E6/E7) in the biology of HPV-associated oral cancers. Ogbureke, Kalu
Research Interests: Mechanical properties of dental materials; light polymerization; adhesion; ceramic; resin composite; color stability, esthetics. The research in the oral biomaterials laboratory is primarily directed at understanding, polymerization, optical and mechanical properties of biomaterials as it relates to restorative applications in dentistry. Mechanical properties of dental materials include surface hardness, compressive, flexural, and modulus strength testing, tear energy, stress/strain measurement. Bond strengths of dental materials are tested using either a cylinder shear test or an inverted cone tensile test with an Instron testing machine. Microleakages of dental materials are performed after thermo-cycling and computer imaging of specimens. Current studies in our lab range from depth of cure of dental restorative materials polymerized with Light-emitting-diodes to polishing dependent gloss changes of composite resin. An In-vivo and in-vitro comparison of color changes of composite resin is also being investigated. Ontiveros, Joe C.
Dr. Schaefer's laboratory utilizes genetic and biochemical techniques to understand the regulation of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue as it relates to inflammatory bowel disease. In this regard, we seek to define the functional relationship linking miRNA expression to colonic inflammation with the goal of uncovering important players that are critical to or at least contributory to the disease process. We are striving to develop a non-invasive diagnostic test for screening and monitoring inflammation in Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis patients. In addition, we have begun studies to identify the transcriptional pathways that control these important immune and gene expression modulators. Schaefer, Jeremy
Dr. Silva’s laboratory focuses on two distinct projects: Genet-ics of craniofacial anomalies (funded by NIDCR and CCTS) and Genetic susceptibility of periapical disease (funded by the American Association of Endodon-tists Foundation). The first project works with the hypothesis that cancer and congenital malformations may have a common etiology. The preliminary data obtained from this project showed a high incidence of several types of cancer, in particular colon cancer, in individuals/families with craniofacial anomalies such as tooth agenesis and cleft lip and palate. AXIN2, a negative regulator of the WNT pathway was also suggested as a potential candidate gene for oral clefts. In collaboration with Dr. Letra’s lab, Dr. Silva has also established collaborations with MD Anderson and Mayo Clinic to continue investigating the proposed hypothesis. As an endodontist, Dr. Silva has been mentoring endodontic residents, preceptors and predoctoral students investigating the role of matrix metalloproteinases, cytokines and heat shock proteins in the development of apical periodontitis after endodontic infection. The results of both projects may lead to the development of future diagnostic tools and contribute to disease prevention and individualized treatment planning in the future. Silva, Renato
Dr. Storthz’s research is focused on the association of viruses with certain cancers, in particular, human papilloma viruses (HPV) and their connection to oral and cervical cancers. Storthz, Karen A
His research interests are in cancer, salivary function, Sjögrens Syndrome and biomarkers. Streckfus, Charles F.
Periodontitis is a chronically progressing opportunistic bacterial infection, involving the connective tissues and bone surrounding the teeth. Dr. Tribble focuses her research studies on two groups of anaerobic bacteria associated with periodontitis, Porphyromonas gingivalis and Prevotella spp. In particular, she investigates the molecular mechanisms of horizontal DNA transfer in oral microbial communities, and the biological consequences of gene exchange with regard to biofilm infections and bacterial pathogenicity. Tribble, Gena

Dr. van der Hoeven’s research focuses on characterization of signaling mechanisms in cancer and identification of novel anti-cancer therapeutics, with emphasis on Ras proteins. Ras proteins act as small molecular switches in cells to regulate several cellular processes including proliferation, differentiation and survival. Mutations in Ras proteins are found in approximately 20% of human tumors, including head and neck cancers, and contribute to malignant transformation; however, no specific inhibitors targeting Ras have been developed to date. Dr. van der Hoeven’s research involves identification of novel Ras inhibitors using high-throughput drug screens and extensive characterization of positive hits using cellular signaling and functional studies. Dr. van der Hoeven’s lab also characterizes novel combination drug therapies to treat drug resistant cancers. These studies are important in gaining a better understanding of cancer pathogenesis and will lead to the development of novel anti-cancer therapeutics.

van der Hoeven, Dharini

Dr. van der Hoeven’s research is to understand the mechanism of host-pathogen interactions in mucosal interfaces. Innate immune responses employed by mucosal surfaces are the first line of defense against invading pathogens. Using a simplified model system, the round worm C. elegans, Dr. van der Hoeven’s lab studies how pathogens attack their hosts and how the host responds to such attacks. C. elegans is an excellent model to study these questions because (a) the worm exclusively relies on inducible innate immune responses for defense (b) the architecture of intestinal cells of the worm are similar to human mucosal epithelial cells, and (c) the worms are transparent enabling real time gene expression to be tracked by fusing gene products to green fluorescent protein. Human pathogens such as Enterococcus faecalis, Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in combination with genetic, biochemical and molecular techniques are used to study the mechanisms of pathogen detection by the host and elucidate the signal pathways triggered in response to infection. Furthermore, Dr. van der Hoeven also uses this model system to study both synergistic as well as antagonistic interactions between microorganisms of the gastrointestinal tract and the oral cavity. Another aspect of Dr. van der Hoeven’s research is to understand the molecular mechanisms by which the opportunistic pathogen Enterococcus faecalis is able to survive and cause persistent periradicular pathosis.

van der Hoeven, Ransome

Dr. Nadarajah Vigneswaran is an oral and maxillofacial pathologist who is actively involved in the diagnosis and management of patients with various oral mucosal disorders. He is actively involved in both clinical and laboratory-based research related to oral cancer and its precursors. His clinical research focuses on evaluating non-invasive diagnostic devices and molecular biomarkers for early diagnosis of oral precancers. His basic research involves the development of experimental animal models for pre-clinical testing of molecular targeted diagnostic imaging and therapy for oral cancer and its precursors. He has more than 90 publications, been an invited presenter for national and international research conference and received over $ 2.2 million in grant funding as a principal- and co-investigator. 

Vigneswaran, Nadarajah
His research interests are focused on using informatics approaches in improving the quality and safety of oral health. Walji, Muhammad
Chronic periodontitis and dental caries are among the most common infectious diseases in humans and affect not only the oral tissues but also systemic conditions. It has been generally accepted that the initiation of oral infectious diseases depends on the existence of certain species of oral bacteria and, Streptococcus mutans and Porphyromonas gingivalis are the predominant species implicated in dental caries and chronic periodontitis, respectively. Inter-species and bacteria-host interactions play important roles in the initiation and development of oral infectious diseases, since they can affect the pathogenicity of a particular pathogen. Dental plaque (biofilms) consists of more than 700 species of bacteria and their interactions influence the transition from commensal microbiota to pathogenic plaque. The host response in the oral cavity also plays essential role in maintaining oral health. Using in vitro and mouse models, Wang’s laboratory studies virulence of S. mutans and P. gingivalis in multi-species settings. The correlation of P. gingivalis with Streptococcus cristatus in the human dental plaque from periodontal healthy and periodontitis individuals is also under investigation. Dr. Wang is also interested in development of a formulation that inactivates human immunodeficiency virus. The long-term goal is to develop a microbicide that effectively and quickly inactivate HIV, without causing irritation to human cells and tissues.  Such a microbicide could reduce HIV transmission and other sexually transmitted infections.  Wang, Bing-Yan
Clinical trials, Laser use in periodontics Weltman, Robin
His clinical and research interests are focused on re-constructive surgery, tissue engineering of bone and the biome-chanical characterization and tissue engineering of temporoman-dibular joint components. Wong, Mark E.
Apoptosis in bone and teeth, mechanisms of infectious and ischemic diseases of the jaws Zhang, Wenjian