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Dr. Yvonne Kapila Receives Major IADR Award

Dr. Yvonne Kapila (right) receives congratulations from Helen Whelton, IADR president.

Dr. Yvonne Kapila and dental student Nam Joo discuss the results of a research project.

Ann Arbor, MI — June 25, 2014 — Dr. Yvonne Kapila, professor of dentistry in the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, has received a major award from the International Association for Dental Research during its annual meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. 

Kapila, who also directs the School’s Global Oral Health Initiative, received IADR’s 2014 Innovation in Oral Care Award for her research about the effect a common food preservative, nisin, may have inhibiting the growth of biofilms that lead to caries (tooth decay) and periodontal disease.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization approved nisin as safe for human consumption decades ago.  As an antibacterial agent, nisin alters cell properties in bacteria to render them harmless.

Possible Applications

Kapila says her interest in exploring if nisin could be used to mitigate periodontal disease and caries stems from her education and training as a periodontist and insights gained from her published work showing that nisin has antitumor properties against oral cancer. 

Questions about the anti-cancer role of nisin were raised by a postdoctoral student in her laboratory, Dr. Nam Joo.  A fourth-year dental student at U-M, Joo began his nisin research while studying for his master’s degree in South Korea.  He continued his work at North Dakota State University where he earned a PhD in cellular and molecular biology.  As a post-doctoral fellow researching basic mechanisms of oral cancer in Kapila’s lab, Joo wondered if nisin might work as an antitumor agent because of its known properties in promoting cell death in other cell systems.

In the fall of 2012, Kapila published a paper investigating nisin to determine if it may fight cancerous tumors by slowing cancer cell proliferation.  "For three weeks, we gave nisin to mice that had tumors.  It prevented tumor growth,” Kapila said.  She hopes to obtain NIH funding to conduct further research to determine if nisin may be a possible anti-oral cancer remedy.

Global Use in Oral Care Products?

Since nisin has been successfully tested as a possible anti-inflammation remedy and has been safely and widely used to help preserve food and dairy products, Kapila is investigating its possible benefits in oral care products.  Her research, co-authored by Joo and others in her lab, revealed that nisin has potential as a therapeutic agent for oral cancer as demonstrated by her work on cells and animal models.

In her role as director of the School’s Global Oral Health Initiative, Kapila believes that nisin “has the potential for global use, especially in countries where oral health care is limited and prevention is the only way to promote long-term benefits.”

Dr. William Giannobile, chair of the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine, lauded Kapila and her team.  “This innovative work on nisin, ranging from cancer treatment applications to potential effects in other oral inflammatory diseases, could have many potential ramifications in the future,” he said. 

The International Association for Dental Research is a nonprofit organization with more than 11,500 members worldwide dedicated to advancing researching and increasing knowledge to improve oral health worldwide, supporting and representing the oral health research community, and enhancing communication and application of research findings.