The focus of the An lab is to contribute to a better understanding of the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in oral disease and health as we age. Since the aging physiology is the single greatest risk factor for many, if not all, chronic diseases, addressing aging directly may prevent the onset or mitigate the severity of multiple chronic diseases and decline, including in the oral cavity.

Work from the field of Geroscience has shown that altering specific pathways can indeed extend lifespan and attenuate age-related decline in multiple species, including mammals. Our group was one of the first groups to demonstrate that targeting the underlying aging process can also improve oral health.

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One of the most studied, robust, and reproducible pathways linked with aging the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway. In mice, inhibition of mTOR by the drug rapamycin can increase lifespan, delay multiple age-associated phenotypes including cancers, declining muscle function, cognitive decline, and improve immune response. We have demonstrated that mTOR inhibition via rapamycin was able to rejuvenate the aging oral cavity of aged mice by reducing inflammation, improving bone health, and shifting the oral microbiome to be more similar to the oral microbiome of young mice. Our work is currently building upon our published study to understand the mechanism behind such rejuvenation and evaluating tailored routes of administration to bring to the dental clinic.

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RAPAmycin Clinical Trial

One of the challenges of Geroscience is finding suitable modes for translation as our goal is to develop safe, feasible, and practice interventions to help humans. We will be starting up one of the first, FDA-approved clinical trials to evaluate rapamycin in older adults with periodontal disease. This clinical trial will occur at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, Seattle. For more information on how to participate or donate to the study, please visit our clinical trial website here: Rapamycin Trial

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“Inflammaging” is a low-grade, chronic inflammation during age without over infection and a significant risk factor for both morbidity and mortality in older adults. We believe that the oral cavity encompasses most, if not all, the sources and outcomes of inflammaging. Our group is evaluating already available FDA-approved drug candidates that target multiple inflammation pathways to understand the impact on oral-systemic inflammaging and lifespan

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Restorative dental sciences and the aging tooth

As the population ages and maintains their dentition, a major concern is cracked tooth/tooth fracture occurs more frequently in older adults. Most studies have been completed on tooth samples that don't accurately model the aging dentition (i.e., unerupted 3rd molars are never in occlusion, premolars are primarily from young patients). Our team uses "healthy" teeth from aged animal models to understand dental hard tissues. Our work will have a direct translationally impact by providing relevant information on tooth biology during age to develop treatment and preventative protocols to extend the healthspan of the tooth.

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