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Dentistry student wins awards for nanoparticle project

February 2, 2017 — 

Three summers ago, dentistry student Chris Ward embarked on a research project to see whether magnetic nanoparticles could be used to carry drugs to the inside of teeth.

“I was pretty skeptical. I went into it thinking they probably wouldn’t penetrate the teeth,” said Ward about the project suggested by his advisor, Dr. Rodrigo França, assistant professor of restorative dentistry in the College of Dentistry, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.

But Ward was excited to discover that the cutting-edge concept is viable. Working in the college’s dental biomaterials lab, he showed that superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) can fully penetrate human molars when subjected to an external magnetic field.

This means the tiny particles could be used for targeted drug delivery in the oral cavity. For instance, they could transport antibiotics into teeth to treat diseases such as periodontitis.

“This is new, and our initial results are promising,” said Ward, adding that only one previous study has been published on SPIONs in dentistry.

Last week, Ward’s project won the poster competition at the College of Dentistry’s annual Research Day. The event was held at the RBC Convention Centre in conjunction with the Manitoba Dental Association’s annual convention.

Dr. Raj Bhullar, associate dean (research) at the College of Dentistry, said the dentists in attendance were impressed with the quality of the student projects. “Research is an integral part of being an allied health professional, and for lifelong learning,” Bhullar said. “Research Day allows our future dental professionals to assess developments in their field as they go on to practice.”

Ward’s work has also won a Student Research Award from the Canadian Association for Dental Research and the Network for Canadian Oral Health Research. His project placed third in Canada in the bachelor’s degree category. He received a travel award to present his findings at an international meeting in San Francisco in March.

Ward, 27, who will graduate as a dentist this spring, conducted the research as part of the requirements for his Bachelor of Science in Dentistry degree. The degree program provides students with a stipend to conduct research in the summers while they’re studying to become dentists during the regular academic year.

“It’s a really interesting way to have a summer job and do some research. The bonus is you get a second degree,” said Ward.

Another Bachelor of Science (Dentistry) student, Natasha Holder, won the Research Day award for best oral presentation. Her research looked at the characteristics of about 200 patients who were referred to the College of Dentistry’s dental sleep medicine clinic for obstructive sleep apnea.

Holder, 26, found that giving a 30-minute presentation to an audience made her more aware of her study’s significance and relevance to dentists. “Talking about it has made me more passionate about it,” she said.

Appalaraju Jaggupilli, a PhD student in oral biology, won the award for best oral presentation by a graduate student. His study looked at the role of bitter taste receptors in cystic fibrosis.

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