Areas of Research Focus

  • Molecular and Cellular Biology of Oral Infections. A major focus seeks to understand immune responses that contribute to periodontal disease progression and oral bone loss. Two areas of scientific interest have emerged. The first involves development of novel chemotherapeutic targets to treat periodontal diseases with emphasis on cell signaling mechanisms in controlling immune cytokine involvement in osteoimmunology and negative immune regulatory mechanisms in periodontal inflammation. The second addresses the contribution of systemic diseases to periodontal disease treatment efficacy and influence on current treatment regimens in genetically susceptible populations. MUSC investigators are developing small molecule inhibitors for topical intraoral application along with siRNA-based therapeutic platforms for management of periodontal diseases. (Faculty: Alekseyenko, Ball, Bradshaw, Huang, Li, Novince, Westwater, Woster, Yilmaz, Yu)
  • Head and Neck Cancer: Signaling Pathways Involved in Neoplastic Development/Progression and Predictive Salivary Biomarkers. Oral and pharyngeal cancer is a research emphasis in the Department of Oral Health Sciences and the Hollings Cancer Center’s Cancer Immunology Program. Major efforts include: (1) elucidation of mechanisms by which tumor cells evade the immune system in head-and-neck cancers and cancers associated with viral infections, and (2) identification and validation of unique approaches that enhance anti-tumor immunity and tumor cell death. MUSC faculty have developed unique lipids to enhance anti-apoptotic mechanisms, complement-based therapeutics to enhance antibody-mediated cell death, and modified immune cells to increase tumor cell death. (Faculty: Day, Diehl, Hardiman, Hill, Howe, Jakymiw, Li, Ogretmen, Palanisamy, Paulos, Rosenzweig, Turner, Watson, Young)
  • Bioengineering/Biomechanics of Temporomandibular Joint and Craniofacial Regeneration. The Clemson/MUSC Bioengineering Program enables Clemson bioengineering faculty to conduct research on the MUSC campus. Bioengineering faculty are active in the oral and craniofacial arena and have significant interactions with primary Oral Health Sciences faculty. Novel nanolayered scaffolds have been developed for periodontal and bone regeneration along with fundamental understanding of the mechanical complexities of the temporomandibular joint compared with other articular joints. Other efforts focus on dental stem cell regeneration of the dentinal component of the tooth and bioactive materials for wound healing. (Faculty: Huang, C. Kern, M. Kern, Martin-Harris, Mehrotra, Muise-Helmericks, Visconti, Yao). 
  • Biobehavioral Factors Related to Oral and Systemic Health in Special Populations. MUSC’s patient population draws from both urban and rural areas statewide. Surrounding coastal islands are home to the Gullah population, a genetically homogeneous sub-population of African and Caribbean heritage. Major factors contributing to disparities and oral health outcomes in special populations include oral health literacy, behavioral approaches and cultural attitudes. Experience gained working with the Gullah population has substantially expanded the perspective in terms of cultural ethos, community engagement and research environment. It has also prompted a new model of oral health services research that departs from the traditional provider-centric model and moves toward community-based participatory research to incorporate oral health into culturally, racially and ethnically diverse settings. Translating findings to researchers and providers also requires new statistical methodologies to gain a better understanding of acquired dental health data. (Faculty: Leite, Martin, Ramakrishnan)