Gene Therapy Shows Promise for Treating Gum Disease

Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered that gene therapy may be an effective tool against periodontal disease, the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.

Gene transfer research, the insertion of genes into an individual's cells and tissues to treat life-threatening conditions, is not new. However, the Michigan group is the first known to use the gene delivery approach to show potential in treating chronic conditions such as periodontal disease, said Dr. William Giannobile, professor at the UM School of Dentistry and principal investigator on the study.

"Periodontal disease is more disabling than life threatening," said Dr. Giannobile, who directs the Michigan Center for Oral Health Research. "This is so important because the next wave of improving medical therapeutics goes beyond saving life, and moves forward to improving the quality of life."

The Michigan researchers collaborated with Target Genetics, a Seattle-based biotechnology company for the study, which tested 127 human subjects and showed a 30 percent improvement in pain relief as well as a gain of function.

The researchers also found a way to use inactivated viruses to help certain cells produce a soluble "tumor necrosis factor receptor." The molecule delivered by gene therapy works like a sponge to sop up excessive levels of tumor necrosis factor, a molecule known to worsen inflammatory bone destruction in patients afflicted not only with periodontal disease but with rheumatoid arthritis and joint deterioration as well.

This "could have potentially life-long treatment effects in patients who are at risk for severe disease activity," Dr. Giannobile said.

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