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2020 Winner’s Circle

Congratulations to the members of the 2020 Winner’s Circle!


Fang-Chi (Alice) Li: Fall 2020 Highest-Scoring Proposal

In a hectic and unpredictable year marred by the pandemic, Dr. Alice Li found respite in the lab working on her research project. Dr. Li is a graduate student at the University of Toronto where her study is investigating the crosstalk and cell behavior of SCAP-macrophages in the disease/healing model within a 3D tissue-construct. By using this new-developed 3D heterogeneous cells tissue-construct, Dr. Li hopes to gain a better understanding of periapical wound healing and regeneration in immature root. “We hope the bridge the gap of knowledge between in vitro 2D monoculture cell studies and in vivo animal studies,” says Li.

In the study, Dr. Li will investigate the interactions between stem cells from apical papilla (SCAP) and macrophages in presence of LPS (pro-inflammatory) and interleukin-4 (anti-inflammatory) environments in a customized 3D heterogeneous cell-based tissue-construct using 3D imaging and cytokine profile analyzes. The bioactive functionalized nanoparticles will be studied to evaluate its potential in guiding tissue regeneration/ organized repair in the second phase of the project.

The study may have great significance to the wealth of endodontic science. Dr. Li’s study is developing and optimizing a 3D heterogeneous cells tissue-construct for studying the biology of pulpal and periradicular tissue response. The construct has the potential to be utilized in future endodontic investigations evaluating the tissue response to materials and treatment strategies in a realistic environment, which can present both paracrine and juxtacrine (cell-cell contact) influences.

Immunomodulation and crosstalk between macrophages-stem cells regulates the process of wound healing. Also, the transition from a tissue repair phase to a regenerative phase following injuries requires a balanced immune response which significantly attributed to macrophages. By evaluating the crosstalk/interaction between macrophages-SCAP and the potential ability of immunomodulation of bioactive engineered-nanoparticles in 3D binary cells tissue-construct, the treatment methods for promoting the periapical wound healing and dentin-pulp complex regeneration may be optimized.

When considering the potential impact to the specialty, Dr. Li feels grateful to be part of our endodontic community whose continued endeavors are expanding the science and knowledge and improving therapeutic strategies in clinics.

“We are very thankful to our Foundation for supporting research projects that contribute to our field. Together, we progress, and make endodontics better” – Fang-Chi (Alice) Li, D.D.S., Ph.D.


Ozge Erdogan: 2020 Highest-Scoring Proposal

Dr. Ozge Erdogan is a doctorate of medical sciences candidate at Harvard School of Dental Medicine where she sees academia flourish when accompanied by productive mentorships and collaborations. Dr. Erdogan first met her mentor, Dr. Jennifer Gibbs five years ago at NYU College of Dentistry. Now, their mentorship continues at Harvard where they are co-PIs on a Foundation-funded study. Dr. Edogan’s interests are focused on understanding peripheral mechanisms of painful pulpitis, investigating post-endodontic pain management strategies, and discovering what factors contribute to persistent pain following endodontic treatment. Her study aims to locate proteomic maps of inflamed dental pulp and differentiating the neuronal proteomic output in symptomatic dental pulp compared to asymptomatic pulp using a mass spectrometry-based approach.

Dr. Erdogan finds it intriguing to consider if there are certain microbial products which may drive or inhibit painful pulpitis, she told us “I find it very interesting that pulpitis can cause excruciating pain for many patients, while about 30% of the patients report almost no pain even though the extent of the caries lesion is similar in both situations.”

In the study, Dr. Erdogan plans to find a proteomic map of inflamed dental pulp due to caries and plans to differentiate the neuronal proteomic output in symptomatic dental pulp as compared to asymptomatic using a mass spectrometry based approach. They hope to find candidate microbial secreted factors that may contribute to the pain seen in symptomatic irreversible pulpitis.

The study’s outcomes and findings will be significant to the field of endodontics. Vital pulp therapies have become a reliable treatment option with predictable outcomes and are currently recommended when the tooth is asymptomatic. However, it is not clear whether severity of pain predicts the degree of pulp tissue damage. “That is why identifying the potential molecular drivers of the two distinct clinical phenotypes is an essential step to improve upon the diagnosis and treatment of pulpitis” says Erdogan.

Outside of endodontics, Dr. Erdogan is a visual arts lover. “I like seeking glimpses of art in science,” she says. Dr. Erdogan completed her dental school and endodontic training in Turkey As a committed yoga practitioner, Dr. Erdogan stays grounded as she moves around the world and as she progresses in her career.

“I am very grateful for the continuous support of the mentors, colleagues, and opportunities within our specialty. I am also grateful for the residents I have met who have made academia a flourishing environment.”  –Ozge Erdogan, D.D.S.


Hebatullah Hussein: 2020 Spring Highest-Scoring Proposal

Dr. Hebatullah Hussein is a PhD student at the University of Toronto. Her endodontic interests include understanding and exploring the molecular mechanisms underlying periapical healing and how residual biofilm affects the treatment outcome in endodontics. Knowing that residual microbes and their associated interactions with our immune system are key factors that lead to persistent endodontic disease is what motivated Dr. Hussein to explore a treatment modality that could address both issues simultaneously. “I have been working on a root canal biofilm model and cell co-culture setups that can be utilized to study host-pathogen interactions and inflammatory signals in-vitro.” Dr. Hussein hopes that her research findings will help promote post-treatment healing.

Since periapical tissue healing is the main biological aim of root canal treatment, applying engineered nanoparticles specifically designed to provide antibiofilm and immunomodulatory functions would enable clinicians with an answer to their daily practice query about the predictability of their procedures.

Dr. Hussein plans to investigate the potential of these engineered nanoparticles to immunomodulate the inflammatory host cell response to root canal biofilm. She aims to identify the signaling switch between an important immune cell (macrophage) and periodontal ligament fibroblast and apply engineered nanoparticles to modulate their signaling and crosstalk besides inactivating residual biofilm. Proteomic analysis of proteins, the real functional molecules of the cells, will allow her to elucidate the potential molecular mechanisms involved in nanoparticles-based modulation of macrophage response to biofilm-mediated inflammation.

The findings of Dr. Hussein’s research will help promote post-treatment healing in endodontics, “Properties of these engineered nanoparticles allow them to modulate post-treatment inflammation and achieve optimum biofilm disinfection, both of which will ultimately facilitate more rapid and predictable healing outcomes in endodontics,” she says.

In her spare time, Dr. Hussein enjoys spending time with family, biking, painting and reading novels. She expresses gratitude for all the professors and colleagues throughout her career in endodontics as a clinician and researcher. She feels privileged to have pursued her Ph.D. at the University of Toronto under the supervision of Dr. Anil Kishen which provided the opportunity to conduct cutting edge research. Dr. Hussein also extends gratitude to the Endodontics Department at Ain-Shams University in Egypt where she received her specialty training.

“I am grateful to the Foundation for supporting to my study and it’s my hope that my findings will contribute to formulating a therapeutic strategy for clinicians to employ in their daily practice to help improve functionality and longevity of natural teeth.” –Dr. Hebatullah A. Hussein, M.D.Sc., B.D.S.


Zhen Shen: 2020 Spring Highest-Scoring Proposal

Dr. Zhen Shen is a resident at the University of Texas at Houston where his interests lie in identifying microRNAs associated with apical periodontitis. With an extensive background in molecular biology, Dr. Shen plans to identify existing and novel microRNAs that are differentially regulated in apical periodontitis and then build a database for all related microRNAs. Next, using the database as the foundation, Dr. Shen intends to study those significantly altered microRNAs as biomarkers and dissect their functions in the pathophysiology of apical periodontitis. When asked what is most exciting about his study and intended outcomes, Dr. Shen told us, “Understanding the biology of pulpal and periradicular tissues is key to the advancement of endodontics.”

While he aims to advance modern endodontic science, Dr. Shen has a deep appreciation for the history of endodontics. While the field of endodontics can be traced back to the 17th century, the recent advancement of technology and material sciences have greatly shaped modern endodontics. In contrast, microRNA research in endodontics is still in its infancy. In fact, before the year 2000, we didn’t know the existence of microRNAs in humans. Over the past two decades, more than 2000 microRNAs have been identified, among which a few have been applied in treating various cancers and many other diseases. “There are very few research articles indicating the involvement of microRNAs in apical periodontitis, which is what attracted me to this project,” says Shen.

Dr. Shen is interested in endodontic basic science research and hopes to translate the knowledge gained from basic research to direct patient care. He is particularly excited to use microRNA as a niche to achieve this goal. Dr. Shen tells us that identifying microRNAs in apical periodontitis and conducting functional studies are essential in unveiling molecular mechanisms underlying this disease and expanding our current knowledge of pulp biology. Moreover, based on their great abundance, prolonged stability, and relative ease of sampling, microRNAs serve as viable targets for the potential development of new diagnostic tools in endodontics. In addition, they can also be used as biological materials in conjunction with conventional endodontic therapies.

In his free time, Dr. Shen enjoys spending quality time with his wife and two children, traveling, and playing chess with his 9-year-old son who is an avid chess player.

“I am grateful for the increased and continued support from our community through the Foundation for Endodontics.  With funding from the Foundation, I was able to present my findings in several research meetings, and part of my study has already been published in the Journal of Endodontics.  Without their support to fund the research and education in endodontics, my project would have stayed as a theory.” –Dr. Zhen Shen, D.M.D., Ph.D.