Developing immunoregulatory bioscaffolds to rebuild tooth supporting tissues

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1. SUMMARY

Periodontitis is an inflammatory disease of the tooth supporting tissues caused by bacteria. It is the most significant reason for tooth loss, and constitutes a major global oral health problem, accounting for a substantial component of the 442 billion USD/year cost for oral diseases. In Australia, nearly one-quarter of adults experience periodontitis, causing tremendous aesthetic and functional concerns, particularly with the increasing prevalence of 2.8% in 18–24 year olds to 60.8% in those aged 75+. Regeneration of the periodontal tissues is challenging due to the complexity of tooth supporting structures which consist of soft tissues (gum and periodontal ligament) and hard tissues (jawbone and tooth root cementum). Treatments currently available for periodontitis are unsatisfactory and fail to fully restore the periodontal structure, highlighting the urgent need to develop a viable translational approach to prevent, limit or treat periodontitis.


My research aims to fully regenerate the damaged periodontal structures, and to control bacteria induced inflammation during the regenerative process using my newly developed bioscaffolds (ie artificial structures implanted into the body that degrade overtime as the host tissues grow). These bioscaffolds have the innovative properties of:

  • building complex structures using advanced 3D printing technologies
  • inhibiting bacterial growth using materials with antibacterial coatings
  • controlling inflammation by releasing immunoregulatory factors through an interconnected pore structure and hollow tube design.


The newly developed bioscaffolds have substantial potential to be translated into clinical applications, to overcome the limitations of currently available treatments, to fully restore the damaged periodontal tissues, and to alleviate the economic burden associated with periodontal diseases.

2. BENEFIT

The outcomes of this project will create intellectual linkages for cell biologists, dental clinicians and material engineers, by directly addressing the longstanding clinical goal of periodontal tissue regeneration. I anticipate the research outcome will be translated into clinical practice within 5 years and will both improve quality of life for patients experiencing periodontitis and prompt economic returns through the commercialisation of novel products. Specifically, the benefits of my research to Queensland include:


Improved Oral Health for Queenslanders

Good oral health is fundamental to general health and wellbeing. Periodontitis and tooth loss will decrease a person’s general quality of life, and the ability to eat, speak and socialise is compromised. Poor oral health is also associated with a number of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The multi-functional bioscaffolds developed in my project will focus on the precise regulation of bacteria induced immune responses which will accelerate periodontal tissue regeneration, lead to better oral life with greater comfort, and further reduce the risks of developing other systemic inflammatory diseases for Queenslanders.


Reduced Financial Burdens

Poor oral health impacts many Australians and contributes 4.4% to the cost non-fatal diseases place on the community. New technology developed through this project has the potential to deliver substantially improved clinical outcomes for the treatment of periodontitis, and may lead to improved recovery time and rehabilitation, and reduce the need for revision dental surgery. These factors together, all have the potential to contribute to reducing the burden on the health system associated with periodontitis.


Economic Returns through Commercialisation

Potential economic returns through the commercialisation of multi-functional (anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and pro-regenerative) bioscaffolds, in partnership with the pharmaceutical and medical technology industry, will target a global periodontal disease therapeutics market forecasted to reach $855 million USD by 2025, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 8.7%. The Asia-Pacific region is expected to be the fastest growing market driven by its growing aging population, the increasing number of diabetic patients and government sponsored oral care and hygiene campaigns. The size of the potential market offers Queensland substantial economic opportunities with the clinical development and commercialisation of novel bioscaffolds to treat periodontitis.


Opportunities for Future Collaboration and Strategic Alliances

My project will deliver new intellectual property in relation to the design and manufacture of novel bioscaffolds for the treatment of periodontitis. My project will also aid in strengthening and expanding collaborative research partnerships between Queensland and other regions/countries in the field of biomaterials and biotechnology research. Outcomes from this project will be published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at national and international academic conferences, stimulating further opportunities for collaboration with Institutions and Universities across a range of fields related to immunotherapy, nanotechnology and biomedical engineering.


Skills Development for Next Generations in STEM

This project will provide research training to the next generation of biomedical researchers in immunology, bone biology, material science, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, all of which will strengthen the international position of Queensland in these emerging fields

3. ENGAGEMENT

I have been actively involved in science outreach, seeking to inspire younger generations to pursue studies in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). My engagements in science communication include:

  • Invited to participate in the Australian Academy of Science’s Theo Murphy High Flyers Think Tank: The Stem Cell Revolution, where I contributed to Group Recommendations that determined how best to improve Australia’s capability of taking ideas from the bench to the bedside, and translate them into clinical outcomes for patients. The final Recommendation Report was launched in the NSW Parliament (2016), and has been made available to government, stakeholders and the public.
  • Invited to share my research and STEM journey with a group of 80 non-scientific attendees to promote the visibility of women in STEM careers as part of the Advance Queensland initiative (2017).
  • Lead STEM ambassador who developed interactive workshops and lab tours at the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) for the annual National Youth Science Forum (2018, 2019). The tours were well received by the two groups of 40 high achievers entering Year 12, who stated they had a better understanding of the diverse study and career options available in STEM.
  • Active committee member of the Queensland National Science Week who lead the development of a seed grant initiative aiming to increase community awareness, understanding and engagement with STEM activities during National Science Week in Queensland (2018 ongoing). 
  • Active member of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society (TERMIS) and selected to serve on the Local Organising Committee as Chair of the Scientific Program Sub-Committee for the TERMIS-Asia Pacific Chapter Conference (2019), curating a program with 742 oral and poster presentations.
  • I have contributed significantly to the Australia-China Centre for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine (ACCTERM) since its inception at QUT, June 2013. As a Steering Committee Member, and now Deputy Director I work closely with ACCTERM Partner Universities to establish collaborations with world-renowned scientists in the field of tissue engineering by conceptualising and developing annual research forums and managing multi-institutional projects. This role serves to increase collaboration between Australia and China, and I lead a team of two project officers to create a highly visible hub for international research as well as develop and execute the collaborative projects. I design and lead the development of the quarterly e-newsletter and the Centre website to disseminate the latest research findings to the general public and stakeholders.
  • I play an active role in the Vacation Research Experience Scheme hosted by the Science and Engineering Faculty at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and have mentored 3 undergraduates each summer (2017 to date). I establish research manuals and teach students laboratory methods (histology and cell biology). 
  • I actively support the professional development of female researchers by leading academic pathway discussions at workshops for Women in STEM, a program for which QUT received an inaugural Athena SWAN Bronze Award.

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Dr Yinghong Zhou is a postdoctoral researcher based at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) whose career trajectory is driven by her passion for bone tissue engineering and regenerative dentis...

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