Our faculty are at the forefront of dental research using new technology, inventing innovate approaches and finding new ways to improve dental procedures and education.
Areas of Research
The primary mission of the Division is to collaborate with investigators at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (TUSDM) on novel research. We are also active in teaching, conducting independent research, and seeking external funding.
Visit the Biostatistics page.
The main focuses of the Division of Oral Biology lab include:
- Gene expression and regulation in bone formation and tooth development.
- Stem cells and transcription factors in bone tissue engineering and regeneration.
- Translational studies including bone metastasis of breast cancer cells, bisphosphonates associated osteonecrosis of the jaws and osseointegration of dental implants.
Bone sialoprotein (BSP) is a major non-collagenous protein in bone and other mineralized tissues. Our lab has demonstrated that that BSP is expressed during de novo bone formation and in initial stage of mineralization.
Using transgenic mouse model, we were the first in reporting the expression of rat BSP promoter in a tissue specific and developmentally regulated fashion. The transcriptional factor Cbfa1 is a “master gene” in osteogenenis. In Cbfa1 deficient mice there was no bone formation. We are currently investigating the regulation of Cbfa1 on BSP gene expression. In addition to a variety of in vitro studies we have also used a TVA (a chicken retroviral receptor) model to study the regulatory effect of Cbfa1 on BSP expression in vivo during deferent stages of tooth and bone development.
Using BSP as a unique marker and parameter, we have studied the cell differentiation in bone repair and regeneration. Calvarial and femoral bones as well as periodontal alveolar bone have been used in this tissue-engineering project in which both gene-therapy and cell-based in vivo methods have been applied. The migration, differentiation and function of bone marrow stem cells from BSP transgenic mice have been studied in periodontal regeneration. We have also first subcloned, sequenced and characterized hamster BSP gene and reported the BSP expression in cancer model.
It has recently been found that BSP is expressed in breast and prostate cancer cells that have a strong tendency to metastasize into bone tissues. We have started a series of investigations in determining the mechanisms of BSP gene expression in promoting bone metastasis of tumor cells. We have shown that BSP promotes tumor cell to penetrate blood vessels. Using an intracardiac injection of tumor cells in nude mice we have found that BSP gene over-expression in human breast cancer cells enhances the tumor metastasis and transfecion with antisense of BSP inhibits this effect.
The tools and methods we routinely employ in our lab include Northern, Southern, Western and in situ hybridizations, transgenic animal model, animal surgery and experimental pathology, tumorigenesis, histology, immunohistochemistry, luciferase assays, PCR, DNA and viral construction, cell and tissue cultures.
The Center for Integrated Tissue Engineering – 3D Tissues for Discovery
The mission of the Center for Integrated Tissue Engineering (CITE) is to provide experimental in vitro and in vivo three-dimensional (3D) human tissue models that recapitulate the complex tissue architecture and signaling networks present in human tissue in vivo. Through the fabrication and analysis of 3D tissues, CITE generates novel experimental paradigms that: (1) enable investigation into the complex interplay between multiple cell and tissue types in biologically-meaningful, 3D tissue context, (2) provide a more comprehensive and global picture of how disease-associated pathways interact with their local microenvironment, and (3) serve as human, “pre-clinical” or “surrogate” tissues that set the stage for the translation of discoveries to the clinic through strategies that will allow target identification and validation in human tissues.
With the increasing need for bi-directional interactions between basic and clinical scientists, CITE has developed powerful new research tools that can help meet the broad scientific needs of the translational research community. Conventional basic science approaches to the dissection of complex biological systems have been based primarily on experimentation in 2D, monolayer culture systems. However, the power of these approaches to simulate biological processes in human tissues has been limited. In light of this, it is now widely accepted that cellular and tissue responses need to be studied in experimental systems that incorporate appropriate 3D context and faithfully mimic their in vivo counterparts. Such 3D tissues generated at CITE now: (1) Allow evaluation of candidate drugs and compounds in human tissues as novel platforms for design and screening of drugs targeted for specific therapeutic applications; (2) Provide validated tissue models for product screening that can predict their safety and efficacy in human tissues as alternatives to animal testing; and (3) Accelerate the translational pipeline by validating discovery of disease targets made in conventional 2D culture systems in 3D human tissues.
CITE is providing these services in 3D tissue biology to a broad variety of industrial and academic scientists both within the Tufts community and beyond as a portal to discovery of pathways linked to human disease pathophysiology that now serve as a paradigm for clinical translation.
Craniofacial & Molecular Genetics
Research focuses on the development and regeneration of craniofacial skeletal elements and teeth. A large-scale, forward genetic mutagenesis screen is currently underway to identify novel signaling networks regulating craniofacial and tooth regeneration. The brand new, state-of-the-art, Tufts Zebrafish Facility houses over 2,000 tanks and over 40,000 zebrafish.
This program is directed by Pamela Yelick, Ph.D.
Facial Animation Laboratory
The Facial Animation Laboratory team at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine is currently working on two federal grants, both funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Principal Investigator, Dr. Carroll Ann Trotman, is investigating two major craniofacial issues: facial paralysis and cleft lip and palate surgery. Located at 75 Kneeland Street in downtown Boston, we collect extensive data on patients diagnosed with acute Facial Paralysis and patients with Cleft Lip and Palate using three-dimensional imaging equipment.
Visit the Facial Animation Laboratory page.
Sjogren’s Syndrome: Dry Mouth and Dry Eye
The division is known for its research on Sjögren’s syndrome which is either a primary disorder or in association with other rheumatic disorders, Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that affects between 1 and 4 million people in the United States, with a nine times greater incidence in women than in men. It is characterized by a sicca complex of decreased tears and saliva, burning mouth and the involvement of other organs and systems in the body.
Sjögren’s syndrome is a disease that attacks the body’s moisture-producing glands and thereby causing tooth decay, gum disease and other problems. Our research activities include the identification of biomarkers for the disease, research on the effect of Omega-3 fatty acids on salivation, assessment of cognitive dysfunction associated with Sjögren’s Syndrome and numerous FDA trials on potential therapeutic interventions.
Clinical Trial Participation
The division frequently recruits individuals for participation in its clinical trials. Depending on the trial, participants may receive a stipend, free dental cleanings or exams, gift certificates or other incentives. To learn about current trials, call 617-636-3931
Oral Medicine Clinic Appointments
Dry Eye and Dry Mouth Research Laboratory
Sjögren’s syndrome, a systemic inflammatory autoimmune disease which affects approximately 2-4 million American, mostly women, is the leading cause of aqueous-deficient dry eye and dry mouth syndromes. In Sjögren’s syndrome, cells of the immune system attack and destroy lacrimal and salivary gland acinar cells (the secretory cells), either directly or through the production of proinflammatory cytokines. To date, the mechanisms leading to acinar cell loss and the associated decline in lacrimal and salivary gland secretions leading to dry eye and dry mouth symptoms are still poorly understood.
Previous research from this laboratory investigated why the remaining acinar cells are not able to support normal exocrine functions during inflammation. The evidence gathered so far points to a pivotal role of proinflammatory cytokines, especially interleukin-1 (IL-1), in the impaired function of the lacrimal gland associated with inflammation. Specifically, it was found that IL-1 has a dual target in the lacrimal gland: the nerve endings (i.e., inhibition of neurotransmitter release) and the epithelial cells (i.e., inhibition of agonist-induced secretion) leading to insufficient secretion and symptoms of dry eye.
Recently, they discovered that murine lacrimal gland is capable of repair following experimentally-induced inflammation (i.e., injury). They have evidence that inflammation results in loss of lacrimal gland acinar cells through programmed cell death, namely apoptosis and autophagy. They also found that during the repair phase, stem/progenitor cells in the lacrimal gland are mobilized and induced to proliferate. Furthermore, they have recently been able to isolate and propagate in vitro, stem/progenitor cells from injured lacrimal glands.
Ongoing research in this laboratory aims to:
- Elucidate the causes of insufficient production of tears and saliva with special emphasis on the autoimmune disease Sjögren’s syndrome
- Identify and characterize salivary biomarkers for the early diagnosis of Sjögren’s syndrome
- Investigate the regenerative capacity of the lacrimal and salivary glands following experimentally induced injury
- Study the role of stem/progenitor cells in repair of the lacrimal and salivary glands
- Use silk-based scaffolds and mesenchymal stem cells to engineer an implantable fluid-secreting device
Visit the oral medicine clinic page.
Stem Cell and Tissue Engineering
Recent advances in stem cell biology have created new opportunities to study developmental and disease processes as they occur in the complex microenvironments exhibited by oral mucosa and skin. Our laboratory is developing experimental approaches to derive mesenchymal and epithelial cell types from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). Our ultimate goal is to use these cells for personalized therapies for regeneration and repair of diseased or damaged tissues and organs. We continue to develop and apply novel 3D, human bioengineered tissues that provide powerful platforms that closely mimic the form and function of human tissues and organs. We view 3D tissues harboring a broad spectrum of stem cells as a powerful translational platform that can determine how iPSC-derived cells behave in an in vivo-like microenvironment. We hope that our research will allow us to develop, test and apply a spectrum of new and powerful therapies for oral and skin diseases.
Research Community Focus
Research at TUSDM focuses on the community and we focus on the following goals.
- Apply basic and clinical science research to the development of new methodologies and treatment technologies
- Publish in peer reviewed journals
- Communicate through oral scientific presentations
- Create research opportunities and encourage participation for faculty and students
- Develop innovative hypotheses
- Collaborate with other scientists within Tufts and other institutions
- Share research ideas among faculty and students
- Nurture future scientists and leaders
- Educate and promote the oral health and well-being of our study volunteers