Health Briefs

Health Briefs

CU-Developed Test May Reduce Need for Dental Fillings

The days of “drill-and-fill” as the standard solution for tooth decay may be numbered if a discovery by a Creighton School of Dentistry professor continues to advance.

Douglas Benn, DDS, Ph.D., has created a simple diagnostic liquid solution that — when applied to the surface of a patient’s teeth prior to a dental X-ray — can show dentists whether a tooth has cavitated decay or is pre-cavity. Pre-cavity decay can often be treated with new topical products, avoiding the need for drilling and filling and costly follow-up repairs.

With the use of the diagnostic liquid solution, Benn estimates 50 percent of cases resulting in dental fillings could be delayed or avoided.  It can also help dentists pick up more infection that could otherwise go unnoticed, he says.

Benn has received funding for this research from the National Institutes of Health and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Agrawal Develops Novel Approach to Coronary Grafts

Creighton researcher Devendra Agrawal, Ph.D., has received a four-year, $2.9 million National Institutes of Health grant to study the effects of gene and stem cell therapy in coronary artery bypass grafts.

This first-of-its-kind undertaking could transform the procedure, increase survival rates and dramatically reduce the possibility of re-occlusion of the grafted arteries and veins in the procedure.

“It’s a novel and innovative approach that a number of people in my lab have worked extremely hard to make happen,” says Agrawal, who has been a professor of biomedical sciences at Creighton for 30 years and has multiple NIH grants to his credit.

“To our knowledge, nobody has done both gene therapy and stem cell therapy, but we’ve seen that you have to have both for the success of the coronary procedure and to take care of the potential for re-occlusion and thrombosis afterwards.”

Agrawal and his team of researchers and surgeons, which included Jeff Sugimoto, M.D., head of cardiothoracic surgery at CHI Creighton University Medical Center, were able to design a procedure whereby the defect in a protein causing the re-occlusion can be corrected before the grafting of the vein. Stem cells, derived from the patients’ bone marrow, are then used to regenerate a layer of cells to strengthen the artery and keep it clear.

North Part of TB Study

Jeff North, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacy sciences at Creighton, and a team of researchers recently received a four-year grant for more than $2 million from National Institutes of Health to further study a drug that could revolutionize tuberculosis treatment worldwide.

A course of anti-TB drugs typically takes six months in its shortest form, but research by North and his colleagues might be able to significantly reduce the time it takes to get patients cured of the disease.

“We’ve known for awhile we needed to find a drug with a new way to kill TB,” North says. “If we can take six months and make that four months or even two months, we can greatly reduce the pill burden and lessen the impact of some of the other factors involved, something like a civil war or unrest that can make it hard to get treatment to patients.”

Gene Modulation Could Lead to Hearing Restoration

Sonia Rocha-Sanchez, Ph.D., associate professor of oral biology at Creighton, and an expert in the biology and physiology of the inner ear, has developed a method to temporally modify the expression a gene (retinoblastoma-1, or RB1) in mice that can allow for the regrowth of cells in the inner ear and potentially restore hearing and balance caused by the loss of sensory hair cells.

Sensory hair cells, once lost, are unable to regenerate, leading to hearing loss, deafness and balance impairment. The modulation of gene expression for just a brief period has shown the potential for significant developments in inner-ear sensory hair cell replacement therapy.

“We’re very excited about what this means for inner-ear research,” Rocha-Sanchez says. “Although preliminary, we think the chances are great that this can be, eventually, translated into human therapies.”

Are Formula-fed Babies More Overweight?

Initial findings in a study by Misty Schwartz, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of nursing, and Barbara Synowiecki, assistant professor of nursing, shows that formula-fed infants are no more likely to be overweight than breast-fed infants.

“There is this popular belief that formula-fed babies are more likely to be overweight, but we are not finding that to be true in our study,” Schwartz says.

The researchers measured the growth of both breast-fed and formula-fed infants over a six-month period, taking physical measurements that included weight, length, head circumference and skin folds.

The study is unique in its focus.

“There are lots of studies focusing on the benefits of breastfeeding, but there are very few focused on formula-fed babies’ level of nutrition,” Schwartz says.