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DTA Foundation Grant Chat: Using Technology To Capture And Kill Oral Bacteria

It almost sounds like the plot of an action sci-fi movie: using technology to capture and decimate a bacteria that threatens the health of millions. Except this isn’t a movie. It’s the work of the Regents of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and their innovative pilot program to improve oral health and prevent bloodstream infection using novel biopolymers. Thanks to your generous donations, a $25,000 DTA Foundation grant will help them continue their research.

Recently, we sat down with UCSF assistant researcher Yung-Ching Chien and UCSF professor Pamela Den Besten to find out more about the program and how other states could implement a similar one.

Can you tell us a little about your program and who it is targeted to help?
Our program aims to apply biopolymer technology to capture and incapacitate oral bacteria that caused mucositis and blood stream infection in human stem cell transplant (HSCT) patients.  We are constructing biomimetic polymers with polysaccharide ligands that have the capability to bind several receptors on bacteria, preventing their adherence and further colonization to the host. The polymer-ligand-bound bacteria can no longer replicate and can be easily cleaned away, ideal for the HSCT recipients because their cleansing and protective mechanisms on mucosal surfaces are limited and compromised by chemotherapy.

What is your ultimate goal with this program?
Our ultimate goal is to apply the conjugated biopolymers in a mouth rinse or oral sanitizing gel/pad to reduce the incidence of BSI (a type of bacterial infection) in HSCT immunocompromised patients nationwide and worldwide. We also anticipate the possibility that multivalent conjugates which selectively bind and block the target pathogens can be used to coat plastic devices such as catheters, medical and dental prostheses, and other implanted devices to prevent infection by inhibition of colonization and biofilm formation.

How will having the DTA Foundation grant help you meet that goal?
This funding from the DTA Foundation is an essential source to support us to initiate the translation of this technology into applications. With this financial support, we can smoothly facilitate synthesis, design optimization, characterization, procedure, feasibility test, and so on. The outcome of this study can lead us to larger scale funding applications to sustain this program for formulating products applicable to oral care. We will also seek the funding opportunities from the Biological Technologies Office (BTO) of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) as the results of this study may also be of interest to governments.

How will this program help to improve oral health in your area?
We expect that the results from this study will direct the development of more effective oral care in all patients undergoing HSCT, reduce incidence of BSI in all oncology patients. We also hope this will benefit a large number of HSCT patients in US (18,000, year of 2014, Broder et al.) and world wide in the future.

What three pieces of advice would you give others considering implementing a program like yours?
From our experience:

  1. First to find the best expertise possible in launching a multidisciplinary project.
  2. Focus on what is required as the first steps, for our case it is preventing bacteria attachment and proliferation on wounds. And then plan for long term continuation of the most promising aspects of the project, such as constructing the novel biopolymers that could capture and trap bacteria efficiently.
  3. Think big at the initial stages of project developments.

Is there anything you’d like to say to the donors who make the DTA Foundation grants possible?
We truly appreciate your generosity and care as it relates to oral health care, (particularly for patients and children with special needs). Our program was launched thanks to your immensely meaningful support.