Cavities – Nature or Nurture? $1 Million Grant to Pitt Dental School to Study Causes
Dental caries, also known as tooth decay or cavities, remains the most common chronic affliction of childhood, five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than environmental allergies. Four out of ten children have caries when they enter kindergarten. To identify the genetic and environmental risk factors that cause dental caries, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $1 million grant to the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine researcher Mary L. Marazita, Ph.D., director of the Center for Craniofacial and Dental Research, associate dean for research and professor and chair of oral biology. Dr. Marazita and colleagues will study the interaction between genes and environmental factors that lead to tooth decay. The results of these studies will allow a better understanding of the disease, which in turn will lead to earlier identification of children at risk and improved and targeted interventions.
“As prevalent as tooth decay is in everyday life, there are many gaps in our scientific knowledge about its causes,” said Dr. Marazita. “It is striking that some people will have many teeth affected with decay while other people in the same environment will not. Our study is the first to apply a comprehensive approach that will allow us to tease out what’s in our genes and what’s in our environment that is causing tooth decay.”
The grant is part of the Genes, Environment and Health Initiative (GEI). In addition to the grant, NIH will provide genetic services of approximately $2.5 million to Dr. Marazita. She is one of only eight scientists selected to receive these grants during this funding cycle.
In 2005, dental health care costs reached nearly $84 billion, of which 60 percent or about $50 billion was related to treatment of cavities. Childhood caries is a serious public health issue because of associated health problems and because disparities in oral health have led to substantially higher average disease prevalence among children in poverty and in underserved racial and ethnic groups.
The genome-wide association studies will be led by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of NIH. First-year funding for the studies was contributed by all NIH institutes and centers, including an extra investment by NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). NHGRI is one of 27 institutes and centers at the NIH, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The NHGRI Division of Extramural Research supports grants for research and for training and career development at sites nationwide.
The NIDCR is the nation’s leading funder of research on oral, dental and craniofacial health. NIH is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases.
Additional collaborators from the University of Pittsburgh include Robert Weyant, D.M.D., School of Dental Medicine; and Eleanor Feingold, Ph.D., Daniel Weeks Ph.D., and Michael Barmada, Ph.D., Department of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Other collaborators include Steven Levy, D.D.S., and colleagues of the University of Iowa; Rebecca Slayton, D.D.S., Ph.D., University of Washington; and Richard Crout, D.M.D., and Daniel McNeil, Ph.D, West Virginia University.
The School of Dental Medicine has been an integral part of the University of Pittsburgh’s growth for nearly a century. Established in 1896 as an independent institution named the Pittsburgh Dental College, the school was incorporated into the University in 1905. Like the five other Schools of the Health Sciences, the School of Dental Medicine is affiliated with the internationally renowned academic medical center, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which provides the region’s largest network of tertiary, specialty and community hospitals. Collectively, these facilities provide one of the nation’s greatest, most complete health centers for teaching, patient care and research in the health sciences. For additional information about the School of Dental Medicine, visit http://www.dental.pitt.edu.
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