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NIH Awards NYU College of Dentistry $1.8 Million to Identify Risk for Severe Early Childhood Caries

Front row, from left: Dr. Stuart Brown; Dr. Yihong Li; Dr. Deepak Saxena; Middle row: Ms. Hareeti Gill; Ms. Jin mei Song; Dr. Robert Norman; Dr. Page Caufield. Back: Dr. Charles Larsen; Dr. Haijing Giu; Dr. Ran Yang; Dr. Jane Carlton; Dr. Rashmi Shrestha
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of NIH, has awarded a New York University College of Dentistry research team a five-year, $1.83 million grant to conduct research to help identify those at risk for severe early childhood caries, a disease that can destroy most of a child’s teeth by age six.

The grant enables the team, led by Dr. Page W. Caufield, Professor of Cariology and Comprehensive Care, to create a genetic profile of Streptoccocus mutans, the fast-acting, potent bacterium that causes the condition, which disproportionately affects children in underserved socioeconomic groups.

“Through profiling we will uncover genetic differences between virulent, disease-causing S. mutans strains and those strains found in children who are caries-free,” said Dr. Caufield.

In an earlier phase of their research, which was also funded by the NIDCR, Dr. Caufield and his team discovered that mothers transmit S. mutans to their babies, a process believed to occur when the baby passes through the birth canal and comes in contact with transient bacteria originating in the mother’s oral cavity. Plaque created by the bacteria covers the baby’s teeth when they emerge and can erode some teeth in as little as one year. The earlier study identified S. mutans gene sequences common to a group of 50 medically-underserved New York City Hispanic children with severe early childhood caries.

With the help of the new grant, the team will assess whether those gene sequences can reliably predict the disease in a group of 300 children from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. This finding is expected to propel the development of a diagnostic test that dentists could administer chairside to identify those at risk, so that preventive measures, such as sealing a child’s teeth shortly after they emerge, can be taken.

Dr. Caufield’s coinvestigators are Dr. Yihong Li, Associate Professor of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology; Dr. Deepak Saxena, Assistant Professor of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology; and Dr. Robert Norman, Research Associate Professor of Epidemiology & Health Promotion, all of the NYU College of Dentistry; and Dr. Jane Carlton, Associate Professor of Medical Parasitology, and Dr. Stuart Brown, Associate Professor of Cell Biology, of the NYU School of Medicine. The research team also includes Dr. Charles Larsen, Assistant Professor of Pediatric Dentistry; Dr. Rashmi Shrestha, a second-year student in the MS Program in Clinical Research; Ms. Hareeti Gill, Class of 2008; and Ms. Jin mei Song, a Research Assistant in Cariology and Comprehensive Care; all of the NYU College of Dentistry; Dr. Haijing Giu, a PhD candidate from SunYat-Sen University School of Stomatology; and Dr. Ran Yang, a PhD candidate from Sichuan University West China College of Stomatology.

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