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Dr. Xu Receives Gies Award for Research

Written by Adam Zewe

Professor Huakun Xu, PhD, MS, and his postdoctors and collaborators, have been honored with the 2013 William J. Gies Award for Biomaterials and Bioengineering Research from the International Association of Dental Research (IADR). The award recognizes the pioneering research of Dr. Xu's group in the development of a tooth-filling material that strengthens teeth and kills cavity-producing bacteria.

Dr. Xu and his collaborators, including Lei Cheng, Ke Zhang, Mary Anne S. Melo, Michael D. Weir and Xuedong Zhou, were recognized during the IADR General Session in Seattle on March 20. He expresses gratitude for the support his lab received from the School of Dentistry, the Department of Endodontics, Prosthodontics and Operative Dentistry and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the National Institutes of Health. "I feel honored and humbled to receive this award because this has been a group effort. This has all been made possible by the researchers in my lab, the school administration and the funding sponsors," he remarks.

Dr. 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," states Dr. Xu.

When a dentist fills a tooth, the prepared tooth cavity usually contains some bacteria or carious tissues. In addition, there are often micro-gaps 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. These secondary caries, located along the perimeter of the original restoration, are the main cause of restoration failure, Dr. Xu explains. However, the new filling material could potentially inhibit the growth of the acid-producing bacteria and remineralize the tooth lesions.

His research has implications that stretch far beyond laboratory walls. Increasing the longevity of restorations could reduce the health care cost to society and also improve the quality of life for millions of patients. Additionally, 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.

Dr. Xu and his collaborators recently began testing the filling material in animal models. He looks forward to the test results and anticipates the potential impact his research could have 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," Dr. Xu concludes.

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