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Health, Science & Tech

Pitt Researchers Find New Approach to Treating Gum Disease by Mimicking Cancer

One out of every three people in the United States feels the painful inflammation of periodontal disease, or gum disease.

That’s according to University of Pittsburgh researchers who believe they have discovered a way to treat the disease by mimicking a tumor.

Steve Little, associate professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, said tumors have a way of hacking into the body’s immune system and convincing the system to accept it.

“If we’re able to observe how a tumor cell or a cancer cell does this, we can essentially mimic that with our slow release systems encoding for the same kind of information that a tumor cell does,” Little said.

According to Little, gum disease is the result of overactive immune cells attacking bacteria.

A healthy mouth has to balance of bacteria and immune cells, but Little says the diseased tissues do not have regulatory T-cells to tell the immune cells to stop attacking.

He said the researchers wanted to use their engineered systems to locally suppress and regulate the immune system the way a tumor does.

To do this, the Pitt researchers developed a substance made of something called polymer microspheres, which slowly release a signaling protein and attract the desired regulatory T-cells.

“It’s a dry powder and all we do is simply place it between the teeth and the gums where there’s excess inflammation or periodontal disease,” Little said.

The researchers tested the powder on animals with the disease and found decreased pocket depth and gum bleeding.

These reactions led them to believe that the powder increased the numbers of regulatory T-cells and reduced inflammation.

Little said it is impressive how little amount of drug they have to administer to receive the effect they want.

He said regular treatments are administered in milligrams, which puts the drug everywhere in the body, leading to all kinds of negative side effects.

“The strategy that we’re using to sort of locally present information in a way that cells present information naturally, using that method, we’re able to use millions of times less drug,” Little said.

The next step is to develop the homing beacon for human trials.

The study was funded in part by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, which is part of the National Institutes of Health