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D'Souza IADR grant

D’Souza receives prestigious grant for innovation in oral care research

D'Souza awardDr. Rena D’Souza, professor and chair of biomedical sciences, has received a 2009 Innovation in Oral Care Award to explore a possible therapy that repairs damaged teeth with bioengineered tissue.

D’Souza is one of only three researchers in the world, and one of only two from the United States, to receive the award. It is funded by the International Association for Dental Research and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare and provides $75,000 in unrestricted research funding.

Her research project will combine tissue engineering and nanotechnology to develop and test a biologically based endodontic therapy for teeth with damaged pulps. Current endodontic therapy – treatment for disease in a tooth’s roots and pulp – uses devices that solve dental problems but cannot improve the long-term health of a tooth and often increases the risk of it fracturing. This possible new therapy uses organic substances called peptide hydrogels that can mimic natural connective tissue and stimulate regrowth of dental pulp and dentin, the hard tooth structure that resembles bone.

“In this age of regenerative medicine, it is important to take advantage of emerging technologies to develop more biologically driven therapies to treat common diseases,” D’Souza says. “The idea of ‘regrowing’ tissue using engineered biological materials sounds like science fiction, but it is closer to reality than we think.”

Hydrogels could do even more than stimulate the regrowth of tissues in teeth; they could be altered to incorporate molecules that combat inflammation and infection. Therefore, if successful, the novel concept for regenerating tissues in teeth could serve as a model for restoring other complex tissues in the body, D’Souza says.

The research project has grown from D’Souza’s long-term collaboration with another Texas researcher, Dr. Jeffrey Hartgerink, an associate professor in bioengineering at Rice University in Houston, and Drs. Kerstin Galler and Gottfried Schmalz from the University of Regensburg in Germany.

“As a biologist and clinician, I am excited at the prospect of working on this project with Dr. Hartgerink, who invented these multidomain peptides,” D’Souza says. “Our teamwork brings complementary skills to the project that neither laboratory could accomplish individually.”

D’Souza accepted her award at the IADR general session in Miami on April 1. Her research proposal was selected from 28 applications worldwide.

D’Souza serves as the principal investigator of two major research grants from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research. She also is director of a National Research Service Award Institutional Research Training (T32) Grant from the NIDCR.  She joined HSC-BCD in 2006 after serving as director of research and professor in the Department of Orthodontics at the University of Texas Health Science Center Dental Branch at Houston. D’Souza holds a bachelor’s degree of dental surgery from the University of Bombay in India and a dental degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, where she also earned master’s and doctoral degrees in biomedical sciences.

D'Souza award group