Huakun Xu Captures Major Research Award for His Team and School of Dentistry

For inventing a new dental filling material that inhibits damaging bacteria while, at the same time, remineralizing teeth, Huakun Xu, PhD, MS, accepted on behalf of his collaborative team the prestigious 2013 William J. Gies Award for Biomaterials and Bioengineering Research at the International Association of Dental Research (IADR) general session in Seattle on March 20.

ýI feel honored and humbled to receive this award because this has been a group effort,ý said Xu, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD). “This has all been made possible by the researchers in my lab, the school administration and the funding sponsors,” he said.

The tooth-filling material that strengthens teeth and kills cavity-producing bacteria was developed by Xu and his group: Lei Cheng, DDS, PhD, postdoctoral scientist, UMSOD; Ke Zhang, DDS, visiting PhD student, UMSOD; Mary Anne Melo, DDS, PhD, MSc, Federal University of Ceara, Fortaleza, CE, Brazil; Michael Weir, PhD, MS, research assistant professor, UMSOD; and Xuedong Zhou, PhD, DDS, MS, West China Hospital of Stomatology.

Xu spent the past decade of his scientific career researching the use of biomaterials as a means to replace lost minerals and regenerate bone. After starting his lab at UMSOD in 2007, he decided to expand his calcium phosphate mineral work into the realm of tooth filling materials.

“A typical dentist spends 50 to 70 percent of his or her time digging out old and failed restorations and placing new ones. I thought that remineralizing and antibacterial filling materials could be useful in reducing the failure rates of restorations,” said Xu.

When a dentist fills a tooth, the prepared tooth cavity usually contains some bacteria or carious tissues. In addition, there are often microgaps at the restoration/tooth interfaces. The small gaps can trap bacteria, which can secrete acids and further weaken the tooth structure, leading to the development of secondary caries. The secondary caries, located along the perimeter of the original restoration, are the main cause of restoration failure, Xu explained.

His research has implications that stretch far beyond laboratory walls. By increasing the longevity of restorations health care costs to society could decrease. It also would improve the quality of life for millions of patients, said Xu. The remineralizing and antibacterial filling material could be especially beneficial for underserved populations in the U.S. and in third-world countries that lack access to dental care.

Xu and his collaborators recently began testing the filling material in animal models. He said that they anticipate a great impact on future dental care. “Hopefully, our research will yield a better product and a better treatment method for patients, to improve the efficacy of treatment and, ultimately, improve their quality of life,” Xu said.

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