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Faculty Research Areas

Areas of Research at UTHealth School of Dentistry

Research Interest Researcher
Dr. Akyalcin’s research focuses on orthodontic treatment mechanics, imaging, digital diagnosis and treatment planning, and materials science. His laboratory investigates the use and application of various technological advancements in orthodontics and craniofacial imaging. He is also working closely with graduate residents and dental students in a broad range of topics to help identify common clinical problems that clinicians encounter in practice such as biomechanical issues, relapse and other adverse effects of orthodontic treatment mechanics.  Akyalcin, Sercan
Dr. Angelov’s research focus encompasses basic, clinical and translational studies, mainly in the area of oral mucosal wound healing, periodontal microbiology and dental implants. More recently, a focus of the collaborative research efforts of our department and Baylor’s College of Medicine has been the role of oral bacteria in blood pressure regulation via the Nitrate-Nitrite-Nitric Oxide Pathway. The goal is to understand the role of human microbial communities in the host’s NO homeostasis, to allow the development of new diagnostics and other approaches to manipulate these microbial communities to promote human health and prevent disease.Angelov, Nikola
Dr. Badger is testing a new luting agent from NuSmile. The agent will be tested for shear strength on extracted tooth dentin and compared with RelyX and Multilink. Differing preparation procedures will be used to determine the best method. Badger, Gary
Dr. Neumann's research focuses on the application of Caries Management by Risk Assessment (CAMBRA) and interprofessional education.  She is part of the International Collaboratory for Caries Management (USA group) that is developing a manual with a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to detect, classify, assess risk, synthesize data, diagnose, and manage dental caries.  More recently, she has started working on the improvement of oral health at a population level through quality measures, such as the percentage of adults at high risk for caries that received a fluoride application using data from our electronic health record. Candia Solari Neumann, Ana Cristina
Dr. Chiquet’s research focuses on studying the genetics of craniofacial development, with emphasis on cleft lip and palate.  A conditional CRISPLD2 knockout mouse is being analyzed to study the effects of the CRISPLD2 gene in craniofacial development.  The CRISPLD2 gene has been shown to be associated with nonsyndromic cleft lip and palate and critical for normal palate and jaw formation in zebrafish.  Pathway analysis is underway testing for association with differentially regulated genes in the presence or absence of CRISPLD2 in zebrafish.  We are using both mouse and zebrafish to define the role of CRISPLD2 in craniofacial development. Chiquet, Brett
Dr. Edward’s research focuses on studying the crosstalk between insulin and imidazoline receptor signaling pathways in cultured PC12 and beta cell lines. Preliminary results show that cross talk occur at the level of signaling molecules IRS1-4, PKB and MAPK. Additionally, his lab focuses on the possible role of a novel parotid hormone in regulating calcium homeostasis and insulin regulation in cultured beta cells. Edwards, Lincoln
Dr. Eswaran’s primary research focus is hard and soft tissue regeneration. He is also involved in educational and health outcomes research pertaining to the field of periodontology and implant dentistry. His current study involves utilizing Platelet Rich Fibrin (PRF) in extraction sockets and evaluating its efficacy in bone regeneration and maintenance of alveolar ridge width for implant placement. His educational research focuses on faculty calibration. In particular, he investigates the variations in periodontal diagnosis and calculus detection among faculties in the clinic. The study also involves problem centered calibration techniques to enhance the reliability and consistency among faculties in teaching students.Eswaran, Sridhar V. K.
Dr. Fakhouri’s research focuses on identifying genetic factors that cause and contribute to the risk to have a small mandible (micrognathia) and Pierre Robin Sequence. We use mouse models and organ explants to delineate the mechanism of a novel genetic interaction between IRF6 and TWIST1,  two transcription factors that play an important role in mandibular and palatal development. Bioinformatic analysis and genome-wide approaches are also utilized to decipher the risk of non-coding DNA variants associated with micrognathia and cleft lip and palate. The overall research goal is to translate our findings into the clinic to improve risk assessment and to develop preventive approaches. Fakhouri, Walid
Dr. Frey’s research focuses on biomaterials with emphasis on pedodontic (includes wear, fracture, and cementation) crowns and various bonding studies.  A new research focus is the study of wear on different enamels (primary and permanent) upon itself and various crown materials.Frey, Gary N.
Dr. Hecht has two research focuses. Genes contributing to nonsyndromic cleft lip and palate are identified using next generation sequencing in a family-based approach, and then functionally tested in zebrafish.  This approach has successfully identified genes that are now being modeled in mice.  In our cartilage biology studies, a DOX-inducible mouse (MT-COMP) with the common COMP mutation was used to delineate the chondrocyte-specific mechanisms causing the dwarfing condition, pseudoachondroplasia.  We have successfully tested different treatments in the MT-COMP mouse, which partially rescued the short limb phenotype. Hecht, Jacqueline T.
Dr. Iwata’s research focuses on understanding molecular mechanisms that cause craniofacial birth defects. His group is working on regulatory mechanisms of 1) exocytosis mediated by autophagy, 2) microRNAs, 3) cellular cholesterol metabolism and 4) WNT signaling. More recently, his group has expanded their research into the areas of stem cells and brain development. They have generated new genetic mouse models and has been characterizing the molecular mechanism using multidisciplinary approaches including genetics, genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics. Long-term goals are to identify the novel mechanisms that control craniofacial development and develop new therapeutic s for birth defects and regeneration. Iwata, Junichi
Dr. Jeter concentrates on two research areas.  Using biochemical profiling and proteomic approaches, her laboratory identifies molecules in body fluids (e.g., blood, saliva) indicative of disease status, progression or outcome in patients with traumatic brain injury.  These biomarkers, when validated in larger patient populations, could be used to develop non-invasive diagnostic tests for screening and monitoring patients.  At the intersection of dentistry and neurology, Dr. Jeter’s other focus is on oral health in Parkinson’s disease.  Current research interests focus on coordination of care, the oral microbiome, and causes of patient drooling, dysphagia, and oral hygiene complications. Jeter, Cameron
Dr. Kasper’s research applies fundamentals of engineering, materials science, and the biosciences toward the development and evaluation of biomaterial-based technologies, with a particular focus on tissue regeneration, cell encapsulation, and the controlled delivery of therapeutics. Current research interests include the application of engineered culture conditions for the development of bioactive constructs for orthopedic and craniofacial tissue regeneration. Additional research focuses on the development of biomaterial-based technologies to promote the repair or regeneration of orthopedic and craniofacial tissuesKasper, Kurt
Dr. Kiat-amnuay research focuses on the areas of maxillofacial prosthetic and prosthodontics. Her team has investigated color stability and mechanical properties of pigmented maxillofacial prosthetic elastomers subjected to artificial/natural weathering and microwave energy.  The goal is to find the best combinations of silicone/pigment/opacifier used to make facial prostheses last longer.  Several in vivo studies were also performed on adhesive retention of maxillofacial prostheses.  In addition, randomized controlled crossover clinical trials related to maxillofacial prosthetic and implant dentistry were conducted to improve patients’ quality of lives.  Her group has also studied cement bond strengths of implant-supported ceramic crowns on custom ceramic abutments.  Kiat-amnuay, Sudarat
Dr. Klein’s research focuses on two major areas. The goal of the first is to understand how the immune response is regulated in mucosal tissues, particularly but not limited to the gut mucosa.  Studies are being conducted to elucidate the mechanisms that can activate the immune response when it is insufficient, and ways to suppress chronic inflammatory responses. A second set research area focuses on examining bi-directional interactions between the immune system and the neuroendocrine system are being examined; specifically, the ways in which the immune system regulates metabolism. Klein,John R.
Dr. Letra’s research focuses on understanding the genetic etiology underlying human birth defects, such as cleft lip and palate and dental anomalies. Next generation genetic technologies and functional assays are used to better understand the biological mechanisms underlying genetic variations in vivo and in vitro.  More recently, her research has started exploring the potential common etiology between craniofacial anomalies and cancer. Additional areas of research focus on understanding the molecular mechanisms of oral inflammatory conditions such as periodontal and periapical disease. Letra, Ariadne
Dr. Lou’s research focuses on mechanisms of autoimmune diseases, and roles of immune system in reproduction. His group developed a unique rat model for anti-GBM glomerulonephritis and provided the first convincing evidence that this disease can be induced by T cells alone. Currently, his group is investigating how a novel dendritic cell population terminates pre-existing autoimmune diseases through induction of apoptosis in autoreactive T cells. This mechanism is believed to lead to development of a therapeutic strategy for treating autoimmune diseases. His team is also examining how immune molecules such as cytokines regulate physiological process such as ovulation and tissue remodeling in the ovaries. Lou, Yahuan
Dr. Ogbureke’s research involves investigating the role of the family of glycophosphoproteins comprising osteopontin (OPN), bone sialoprotein (BSP), dentin matrix protein 1 (DMP1), dentin sialophosphoprotein (DSPP) and matrix extracellular phosphoglycoprotein (MEPE) - small integrin-binding ligand N-linked glycoproteins (SIBLINGs)- in biology of oral cancer and other head and neck cancers. These proteins have key functional roles during malignant transformation, invasion and metastasis, and may potentially be used as diagnostic and prognostic tools, as well as targets for therapeutic intervention. Some of the SIBLING family of proteins may therefore identify patients who could benefit from more extensive surgical resection, or from adjunct treatments such as radiotherapy for primary OSCCs. Dissecting the functional and mechanistic pathways of SIBLING activity in oral cancer as well as investigating the interaction of BSP and DSPP with the HPV16 oncoproteins (E6/E7) in the biology of HPV-associated oral cancers are ongoing projects. Ogbureke, Kalu
Research Interests: Mechanical properties of dental materials; light polymerization; adhesion; ceramic; resin composite; color stability, esthetics. The research in the oral biomaterials laboratory is primarily directed at understanding, polymerization, optical and mechanical properties of biomaterials as it relates to restorative applications in dentistry. Mechanical properties of dental materials include surface hardness, compressive, flexural, and modulus strength testing, tear energy, stress/strain measurement. Bond strengths of dental materials are tested using either a cylinder shear test or an inverted cone tensile test with an Instron testing machine. Microleakages of dental materials are performed after thermo-cycling and computer imaging of specimens. Current studies in our lab range from depth of cure of dental restorative materials polymerized with Light-emitting-diodes to polishing dependent gloss changes of composite resin. An In-vivo and in-vitro comparison of color changes of composite resin is also being investigated. Ontiveros, Joe C.
Dr. Paravina’s research focuses on understanding the fundamental optical properties of hard dental tissues, gingiva and skin, and related dental materials. Using state-of-the-art equipment, we aim to better understand these properties through in-vitro and in-vivo testing, and mimic them in restorative materials. Discovery through development of new materials and techniques is another area of interest.  Last but not least, significant portion of research are devoted to color education and training of dental professionals through Dental Color Matcher, a free online program for esthetic dentistry.Paravina, Rade D.
Dr. Schaefer’s research focuses on the mucosal immune system: its development and role in maintaining mucosal homeostasis. Our studies aim to uncover the regulatory mechanisms involved in controlling intestinal immunity and inflammation and how disruptions in these processes lead to chronic disease. We have identified Roquin-1, an RNA binding protein, as a critical modulator of inflammation.  Studies are underway to define the mechanism by which Roquin-1 shapes the immune response. The contribution of epigenetics, including non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) and DNA modifications, is being studied to identify key target genes that can be exploited for diagnosing or treating inflammation. Schaefer, Jeremy
Dr. Silva’s research focuses on two distinct projects delineating the genetics of craniofacial anomalies and genetic susceptibility of periapical disease (a chronic inflammatory process associated with bone loss in the jaws). We are testing the hypothesis that cancer and congenital malformations have a common etiology. Preliminary data from this project showed association between several types of cancer, in particular colon cancer, in individuals/families with craniofacial anomalies such as tooth agenesis and cleft lip and palate. Gene discovery studies suggested AXIN2, a negative regulator of the WNT pathway, as a potential candidate gene for nonsyndromic oral clefts. Silva, Renato
Dr. Tribble’s research focuses on two groups of anaerobic bacteria associated with periodontitis, Porphyromonas gingivalis and Prevotella spp. In particular, she investigates the molecular mechanisms of horizontal DNA transfer in oral microbial communities, and the biological consequences of gene exchange. Her research objectives are to improve our understanding of the role of DNA exchange as it contributes to bacterial survival and persistence in the host, and adaptive evolution transitioning microbiome- host interactions from commensal to pathogenic. Tribble, Gena

Dr.Dharini van der Hoeven’s research focuses on characterization of signaling mechanisms in cancer and identification of novel anti-cancer therapeutics, with emphasis on Ras proteins, which are mutated in 20% of all human tumors. Current research interests include identification of novel Ras inhibitors using high-throughput drug screens, extensive characterization of such compounds in cellular signaling and functional studies, pre-clinical development and chemical optimization of compounds with the overall aim of identifying advanced drug candidates with high efficacy and potency as Ras inhibitors. Identification of Ras inhibitors will be of enormous clinical importance in the treatment of Ras-dependent tumors, including oral cancer.

van der Hoeven, Dharini

Dr. Ransome van der Hoeven’s research focuses on understanding the mechanisms of host-pathogen interactions. The major areas of our current research are: 1) To elucidate innate immune defense mechanisms in response to oral and systemic pathogens using a simple invertebrate model Caenorhabditis elegans, and 2) To determine how Enterococcus faecalis an opportunistic pathogen is able to persist and cause secondary endodontic infections.

van der Hoeven, Ransome

Dr. Vigneswaran’ s research focuses on oral cancer and its precursor lesions in the context of early diagnosis, molecular pathogenesis and targeted therapy.  Dr. Vigneswaran and his collaborators are conducting a number of clinical trials evaluating the accuracy and clinical utility of novel, non-invasive,  point of care diagnostic devices for early detection of oral cancer/pre-cancer. In his translational research, he collaborates with other biomedical researchers within the TMC complex in developing thioaptamer-nanoparticle conjugates for tumor specific delivery of siRNA in combination with chemotherapeutic drugs. His basic research focuses on the development of experimental animal models for oral cancer that closely simulate human oral cancer progression.  

Vigneswaran, Nadarajah
Dr Walji's research evaluates the use of informatics approaches to improve the safety and quality of oral healthcare. His study “Developing a Patient Safety System for Dentistry” identifies adverse events in dentistry. Two other projects focus on the development and dissemination of a standardized dental diagnostic terminology called the Dental Diagnostic System (DDS). He also leads a multi-institutional team that has developed the BigMouth Dental Data Repository, which currently contains data on over 1 million patients derived from EHRs from 5 dental schools. BigMouth ( is currently available to faculty, residents and students to conduct oral health research. Walji, Muhammad
Dr. Wang has focused her research on oral infectious diseases such as periodontal diseases and dental caries. Using molecular genetics approach, we are deciphering the mechanisms of interferences of Streptococcus mutans quorum sensing by other oral bacteria. We are also investigating the role of bacterial interspecies interactions in racial discrepancies in periodontitis. We, in collaboration with Dr. Hua Xie, have demonstrated that Streptococcus cristatus (an oral commensal) inhibited the colonization of Porphyromonas gingivalis (a periodontal pathogen) in vitro and in vivo. The long-term goal of our research is to target certain pathogens specifically for prevention of common oral infectious diseases. Wang, Bing-Yan
Dr. Weisleder’s research focuses on understanding pulpal and periapical diagnosis as well as different tools and methods to determine different pathological conditions. The other interest is focused on dental trauma and pulp regeneration as well as the clinical implications on diagnosis and treatment planning.Weisleder, Rebeca
Dr. Wong has two major research interests. Within the AFIRM consortium, his project focuses on the management of severe maxillofacial injuries through a series of therapeutic interventions. First, preservation of skeletal space is accomplished with a drug-eluting methylmethacrylate polymer. This is followed by the generation of customized vascularized bone grafts formed in a distant site and subsequently transferred into the traumatic defect. His second research focus involves the characterization of TMJ disease and the regeneration of the disc and condyle using tissue engineering principles. Wong, Mark E.