Nearly $1.5M in CIHR Grants for Dentistry Research

By Rachel Boutet

Two research projects at the Faculty of Dentistry have garnered nearly $1.5M in Canadian Institutes of Health research funding for their research.

Investigating the relationship between endocannabinoids and pain in humans
Associate professor Massieh Moayedi has been awarded a $933,300 CIHR project grant to study the effect of endocannabinoids on the human pain experience.
Endocannabinoids are molecules produced in the body that bind to cannabinoid receptors. These molecules have some of the same properties as cannabis products. There is a lot of evidence from animal research that endocannabinoids are involved in pain, but this has yet to be comprehensively studied in humans. A recent report from the International Association for the Study of Pain concluded that there is not enough evidence to know whether cannabis products are effective for pain. Given that over 53 per cent of users report medical cannabis use to manage pain, it is important to understand individual differences in the system to determine who would respond and who would not.

The project is an international collaboration between Moayedi’s laboratory and co-investigators Dr. Lauren Atlas at the National Institutes of Health USA and professor David Finn at the National University of Ireland Galway.
“Our research will, for the first time, study the relationship between endocannabinoids, brain structure and function, and how different people feel pain,” says Moayedi. “Along with my team of co-investigators, we aim to understand how endocannabinoids shape the human experience of pain, and determine whether these can be used as a biomarker for different types of chronic pain.”
The study will bring in 110 healthy people who will undergo a battery of standardized pain tests in order to see how the participant’s pain response is related to the amount of endocannabinoids they have.
“Everyone has endocannabinoids, but everyone has different levels of them based on their lifestyle, for example, how healthy they are, if they smoke, etc.,” he says. “They are among the most abundant molecules in the brain yet we don’t understand them enough.”
Moayedi hopes this study will eventually help in the development of new drugs, knowing if a patient will respond better to CBD, THC or neither. The ultimate goal is to help researchers understand what affects pain perceptions and responses to treatment in order to better help triage patients into pathways of care that work best for them.

Streptococcus salivarius probiotics against dental caries pathogens
Associate Professor Siew-Ging Gong has been awarded a $535,501 CIHR project grant to investigate the use of specific probiotic bacteria that can kill cavity-causing bacteria.
Tooth cavities, or dental caries, is the world's leading chronic disease. To fight against caries, Gong’s team proposes the use of newly discovered probiotic bacteria found in the mouths of healthy children and shown in the lab to be very powerful at killing cavity-causing bugs. Gong and her group will test the efficiency of these probiotic bacteria to colonize the mouth and kill caries pathogens and whether these bacteria can be incorporated into a delivery vehicle for commercial use. The study will include:

  • determining how efficient the newly discovered probiotics are at killing different cavity-causing bugs under conditions found in the human mouth 
  • studying the ability of these good bacteria to “stick” and persist in the mouth 
  • testing the ability of the probiotic bacteria to retain their killing potential while incorporated into a novel hydrogel delivery system.

“My co-applicants, Dr. Céline Lévesque, oral microbiologist here at Dentistry, and Dr. Heinz-Bernhard Kraatz, a biomaterial scientist from the Scarborough campus, are particularly grateful for the great support provided by individuals at the University of Toronto’s Innovations and Partnerships Office,” says Gong. “Specifically, Ms. Marilee Krinsky, Commercialization Manager, Biomedical & Life Sciences, and Rohan Alvares, Life Sciences Technology Analyst, have been instrumental in helping us draft a competitive application from a commercialization perspective.”

Gong says with the funds provided by this grant, her team hopes to be able to push the frontiers in the care and prevention of a hugely prevalent and costly worldwide infectious disease. 

“It will also lay the groundwork towards the development and commercialization of probiotics as preventive and therapeutic modalities against dental cavities. Our application has the potential to offer significant health and industrial implications for oral health care and prevention worldwide.”

Photo: Beakers in Dentistry Lab (Jeff Comber)