student presenting poster

From cancer to opioid abuse, Research Day 2017 tackles vital health challenges

Metastatic oral cancer isn’t a subject Alexandra Blake thought she’d be studying as part of her DDS education. But the 2nd year student, who first started working with Assistant Professor Marco Magalhaes during the 2016 Summer Research Program, soon found herself making progress in an important area of cancer research.

Having previously done cancer research as part of her MSc degree, Blake began investigating the role of phospholipids and their role in creating conditions for invadopodia, cancerous protrusions of metastasized cancer. “We’re investigating the outside barrier of cells – how this changes with invadopodia formation,” says Blake, who noted that the phospholipid membrane of the cells seemed to change with the progression of cancer, allowing the finger-like invadopodia to break through tissues surrounding cells.

three students

But by halting changes to the cellular membranes, researchers may one day be able to stop oral cancer in its tracks. It was a discovery that earned her third place in the Undergraduate Summer Student poster competition research category during this year’s Research Day.  

Blake’s research finding was one of many exciting discoveries presented at Dentistry’s annual research event. A one-day mini-symposium highlighting the Faculty of Dentistry’s remarkable breadth and depth of research conducted by its students. With a keynote address by Dr. Keiran Murphy, and additional addresses by Dentistry professors Yoav Finer, Michael Glogauer and Anil Kishen, the event showcases undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate research through poster competitions and oral presentations.

“What amazes me time and again at the Faculty’s Research Day is the incredible variety and depth of work being undertaken here,” says Vice-Dean, Research, Professor Bernhard Ganss. “We have some truly exceptional researchers incubating here, and I’m excited to see how some of their discoveries will impact the field.”

One such researcher of impact is Dr. Annie Shrestha, this year’s winner of the Student Research Group Travel Award – Graduate Clinical Science. Her winning oral presentation focused on multifunctional chitosan nanoparticles, a naturally derived bioactive polymer, as a way to treat bacteria-infected immature dentin. Her findings showed that not only did the particles help fight bacterial infections in dentin, they promoted stem cell migration and differentiation, leading to healthy new tissue. Potentially useful in a number of different applications, the nanoparticles can be used for caries management, root canal treatment and dentin-pulp regeneration.

We have some truly exceptional researchers incubating here, and I’m excited to see how some of their discoveries will impact the field.

 But the day’s presentations didn’t all focus on tissues and cells.

“Right now Canada is facing an opioid abuse crisis, leading to overdoses and fatalities,” fourth year DDS student Jamie Moeller began his poster presentation. 

Moeller’s work examines whether the socioeconomic indicators of high and low income patients could be predictors of opioid use—and potential abuse—for those suffering from acute tooth pain. According to his results, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may be far more likely to treat tooth pain with opioids.

student with dean haas

What could account for this useage? According to Moeller, the answer may lie in what we already know: individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to suffer from more severe dental pain and experience a greater burden of disease.  He hypothesizes that opioids might be prescribed for this severe tooth pain, or may already be available to those affected by dental pain for treatment of other forms of pain (chronic back pain, as one example). Given that public drug plans often provide coverage for narcotics, but not for over-the-counter painkillers such as Tylenol or Advil, individuals with less disposable income may be compelled to use opioids in place of other painkillers. It’s the kind of real-world research that could be used to support changes to opioid and other drug policies across the province and beyond.

Images: courtesy Jeff Comber, IITS

Research Day Award Winners

February 14, 2017

Undergraduate (Summer Student) Category (3 awards)

First place:  Jonathan Yu, poster #23

Supervisor(s): Dr. Paul Santerre

Title of poster:  “Angiogenesis Within Tissue-Engineered Gingiva Induced by Media Perfusion Rates.”


Second place:  Alvina Siu, poster #20

Supervisor(s):  Dr. Yoav Finer

Title of poster:  “Evaporation-Induced Self-Assembly of Antimictrobial-Templated Mesoporous Silica Dental Implant Coatings.”


Third place:  Alexandra Blake, poster #3

Supervisor(s): Dr. Marco Magalhaes

Title of poster: “Investigating Net Surface Charge and Phospholipid Composition of Invadopodia Membrane.”


Basic Science Category (3 awards) 

First place:  Robert Liddell, poster #36

Supervisor(s):  Dr. J.E. Davies

Title of poster:  “The Interaction of Threads and Implant Microtopography on Implant Resistance To Reverse Torque.”


Second place:  Noha Gomaa, poster #31

Supervisor(s):  Dr. Carlos Quinonez

Title of poster:  “The Biology of Social Adversity in Oral Disease:  The Roles of Socioeconomic Position, Psychosocial Stress and Oral Immunity.”


Third place: Patricia Brooks, poster #29

Supervisor(s):  Dr. Michael Glogauer

Title of poster:  “Application of a 3-Dimensional Model for Analysis of Fusion Structures in the Formation of Multinucleate Cells.”


Clinical science category (3-awards)

First place:  Stephen Spano, poster #62

Supervisor(s):  Dr. Howard Tenenbaum

Title of poster:  “The Use of Dermal Filler in Restoring Deficient Papillae and Emdogain for Root Coverage using a Conservative Surgical Approach:  A Pilot Study.”


Second place:  Muna Marashdeh, poster #54

Supervisor(s):  Dr. Yoav Finer

Title of poster:  “Enterococcus Faecalis Has Collagenoltyic Activity That Degrade Human Dentin Collagen Matrix.”


Third place:  Nghia Huynh, poster #51

Supervisor(s):  Dr. Anil Kishen

Title of poster:  “Interferometric Analysis of the Impact of Bonding Pericervical Dentin On Biomechanical Response in Root Filled Maxillary Premoalrs.”


Post-Doc and Research Associates Category (1 award)

First place:  Dr. Nuno Coelho poster #66

Supervisor(s):  Dr. Christopher McCulloch

Title of poster: “Discoidin Domain Receptor 1 Mediates Collagen Remodelling by Traction Forces.”

*Please note:  The supervisors were taken as excerpt from the Abstract Book.  Apologies if we have printed them in error.


SRG Award Winners

Graduate Basic Science:  Mahmood Abu Ruja - Travel Award

Graduate Clinical Science:  Annie Shrestha - Travel Award

Undergraduate Student:  Cameron Goertzen - Travel Award