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New technology can "deliver" on oral health

A team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry report they have created an antimicrobial treatment that can be chemically programmed in the laboratory to seek out and kill the bacterium commonly implicated in tooth decay.

The target of the new treatment is Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium that lives in the mouth and causes tooth decay by converting sugar into enamel-eroding lactic acid.

The experimental treatment is called a "STAMP," an acronym that stands for "specifically targeted antimicrobial peptides." Like their postal namesake, STAMPs have a two-sided structure. The first is the short homing sequence of a pheromone, a signaling chemical that can be as unique as a fingerprint to a bacterium and ensures that the STAMP will find its target. The second is a small antimicrobial bomb that is linked chemically to the homing sequence and kills the bacterium on delivery.

While scientists previously had targeted specific bacteria in the laboratory, this finding is unique because of the STAMPs themselves. They are much smaller than the previously created bacteria-seeking antibodies that have interested scientists for years. Because of their streamlined design, STAMPs can be produced efficiently and rapidly.

"We've already moved the S. mutans STAMP into human studies, where it can be applied as part of a paste or mouthrinse," said Wenyuan Shi, Ph.D., a scientist at the UCLA School of Dentistry. "We're also developing other dental STAMPs that target the specific oral microbes involved in periodontal disease and possibly even halitosis. Thereafter, we hope to pursue possible medical applications of this technology."

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

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