karina carneiro in her lab


Faculty of Dentistry’s strategic focus on research rewarded in latest round of grant results

Nine Dentistry faculty members have been awarded more than $3.6 million in major research grants during a recent round of government funding decisions. Highlighting Dentistry’s strengths across a multitude of research themes — from dental public health to connective tissue and regenerative medicine — the projects span subjects as diverse as spirochete bacteria, craniofacial development studies and novel technologies such as an immuno-modulating cardiac patch and a 3-D mapping caries detection tools, and point to positive results for the Faculty’s strategic focus on its research enterprise.

“These outstanding results by our researchers are just more proof that our research program is unrivalled. To have this kind of success in today’s funding climate is rare — and to be so successful across so many fields that impact human health is very inspiring,” said Vice-Dean, Research, Professor Bernhard Ganss.

The results come at a time when scientists around the globe are protesting cuts to science research as well as a perceived de-emphasis of the importance of science by governments south of the border.


In its Strategic Plan, 2014-19, the Faculty defined its research enterprise as a major priority. The grant results show that the Faculty has been very successful at reaching one of the Strategic Plan’s objectives: to increase the number of team and collaborative grants that bridge basic science and clinical research.

Other results pointed to U of T Dentistry’s national dominance in oral health research. Of the four CIHR Catalyst grants awarded in the Oral Health area, three were received by U of T teams; Professor Michael Glogauer, Associate Professors Celine Levesque and Siew-Ging Gong, and Professor Christopher McCulloch.

The results also included a major CIHR Team Grant with significant national impact. Associate Professor Herenia Lawrence will create a culturally sensitive collaborative program for improving oral health outcomes for Aboriginal children in numerous First Nations communities.

Cross-disciplinary success is meanwhile evident with Professor Paul Santerre (cross-appointed to the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering), who was awarded three major grants across three different fields of study.

“I think this level of success shows that we’re serious about being one of the top dental research Faculties, not just here in Canada, but internationally,” Ganss added.

A full list of the successful grant projects follow below.


Assistant Professor Karina Carneiro – Functionalized DNA nanostructures for templated biomineralization – NSERC Discovery Grant  - $110K over 5 years

Newly appointed faculty member Carneiro is developing nanostructures that will amplify and structure the body’s natural ability to biomineralize. The project involves developing nano-scale scaffolds that will seed and template hydroxyapatite nanocrystals, materials necessary for biomineralization.


Professor Yoav Finer – Non-invasive imaging technology for dental caries detection and control - Canadian Institutes in Health Research - Collaborative Health Research Program (CHRP) (NSERC partnered) - $717,200 over 3 years

As any good dentist will tell you, dental caries remains the most prevalent disease on earth. But while dental technology has come a long way, clinical detection tools could be more accurate and more sensitive. Finer and his partners, Professors A. Mandelis (UofT), N. Tabatabaei (York University) in collaboration with Quantum Dental Technologies, are developing a handheld, 3-D mapping tool that will not emit ionizing radiation to detect dental caries. The goal is to produce a prototype that will reveal dental demineralization at its earliest stages—and even in the proximal areas—a time when the damage may still be reversible.


Associate Professor Siew-Ging Gong – Craniofacial Neural Crest Migration: The Role of RLRT2  - NSERC - $130K over 5 years

Malformations in the facial region account for at least one third to half of all human birth defects, but not enough is known about the underlying mechanisms at work in this crucial human development. In previous studies, Gong has located a protein, Flrt2, which could be responsible for migration of neural crest cells (CNCCs), a population with important functions during facial development. By better understanding the role of this protein and its interactions during craniofacial development, scientists may one day be able to prevent or lessen facial birth defects. 


Professor Michael Glogauer – Neutrophil Activation Profiles in Circulation and Their Roles in Periodontal Health and Disease – ­CIHR Catalyst Grant  – 1 year, $100K

Michael Glogauer has been shining a new light on periodontal disease through his study of neutrophils and their impact on the health of the oral cavity. His team has identified novel subsets of neutrophils, which he and his team will explore with an eye towards understanding their roles in the development of periodontal disease as well as their possible links to cardiovascular disease.


Associate Professor Herenia Lawrence – Nishtam Niwiipitan (My First Teeth): A Multi-Pronged Approach for Improving Mother and Child Oral Health in Aboriginal Communities

CIHR Team Grant – 3 years, $664,800K, with matching funds of $225K from community health partners

Children living in remote aboriginal communities have extremely high caries rates, with such severity that these children often have to be flown out of their communities to be given treatment under general anaesthesia. In fact, up to 75% of Aboriginal children receive dental treatment this way – with enormous stress on families, communities, and children in particular. “This has become normalized,” says Lawrence.

Based on her previous grant, Lawrence will be collaborating with community leaders in in the Sioux Lookout Zone, Norway House Cree Nation, and other First Nations communities in Ontario and Manitoba to develop culturally-relevant oral health interventions in these communities, along with the implementation of fluoride varnish. By using Aboriginal languages and culturally appropriate events (ie. storytelling circles, baby blessing and walk-out ceremonies) the study hopes to lower the number of children needing extreme interventions and raise preventive oral health care awareness.


Associate Professor Celine Levesque and Associate Professor Siew-Ging Gong - Characterization of oral probiotic products for the prevention of dental caries – CIHR Catalyst Grant – 1 year, $100K

Probiotics have been used to prevent or combat diseases caused by pathogens – but can they also be effective against a bacterial-based disease like caries? Associate professors Levesque and Gong are pursuing the development of antimicrobial molecules from one strain of positive oral cavity bacteria, Streptococcus salivarius. The goal is to see whether a product can be made to endure and fight caries pathogens, and potentially to see if these antimicrobials can also be included in other dental products.


Associate Professor Celine Levesque – Optimization of DENTAQ® Probiotic for Superior Cavities Prevention – Ontario Centres of Excellence Voucher for Innovation and Productivity – NSERC Engage grant – 1 year, $65K

Levesque, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Oral Microbiology, is engaging with microbiology and dental research experts to help optimize a multi-strain probiotic composition to develop a novel class of synbiotic probiotic products combining antimicrobial and tooth remineralization activities.


Professor Christopher McCulloch - Novel treatment of periodontitis – CIHR Catalyst Grant - $100K, 1 year

McCulloch and team have identified a system that controls the remodeling and function of collagen fibrils in the periodontal and dermal connective tissues, filamin A (FLNA). The team hopes to look at FLNA as a potential target for collagen repair caused by arthritis or periodontal diseases.


Assistant Professor Tara Moriarty – Spirochete coordination of adhesion and motility in the presence of fluid shear force – NSERC - $140K over 5 years

Quick moving spirochete bacteria, responsible for Lyme disease, can invade the tissues and organs of the body very quickly. But more needs to be known about these bacteria and how they infiltrate the body. Moriarty’s foundational studies on the underlying mechanisms of how these bacteria stay in the blood stream and slip into organs and other tissues could lead to important new interventions into Lyme disease – a growing threat in North America thanks to a warming climate.


Paul Santerre – Novel adhesive polymeric membranes for binding degradable composite materials to bone in craniomaxillofacial repair – CIHR-CHRP (NSERC partnered) – $520K over 3 years

There may soon be a new way to repair complex craniofacial fractures. Rather than using screws, plates and pins, Santerre and his team are developing a novel, ceramic based “bone tape” that will modulate inflammatory responses but provide a scaffold for bone to regrow. The biomaterials technology is promising for improving healing times as well as cosmetic outcomes.

Paul Santerre – Degradable Cardiac Patch with Immuno-modulatory function – CIHR-CHRP (NSERC Partnered) $597K over 3 years

Drawing upon the same underlying technological concepts as bone tape, Santerre and a team of collaborators at the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research is developing a cardiac tissue patch that will encourage the growth of cardiac cells while preventing inflammation which can lead to scarring.  

Paul Santerre – Particle size analysing system for material composites applications in the biomedical engineering field – NSERC Research Tools & Instruments – 1 year, $150K

This grant will allow Santerre and his many collaborators to purchase next-generation equipment for developing and analyzing polymers towards developing an array of products.