The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recognized the research of Ellen Heber-Katz, PhD, a principal investigator at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR), part of Main Line Health, by awarding her grant funding for her studies on the efficacy of a drug characterized at LIMR that appears to be able to restore bone that was lost due to degeneration.
Bone degeneration occurs in a variety of diseases, especially in the elderly. The studies that Dr. Heber-Katz’s NIH grant will support will focus on restoring bone and soft tissue in the jaw that degenerates as a result of late-stage periodontal disease (PD). Studies show that PD, which is caused by bacterial infection, affects up to 70 percent of the population and is a major cause of tooth loss among those age 65 years and older. Infections that lead to chronic inflammation can degrade the periodontal ligaments that attach a tooth to the jaw, and then cause irreversible bone degeneration, which leads to tooth loss. Additionally, it’s believed that PD is a predisposing factor for heart disease with a direct connection to atherosclerosis.
“Current therapies are not always effective in stopping PD, and even when they are, the affected tissue and bone are permanently lost,” said Dr. Heber-Katz, LIMR professor and a world-renowned immunologist specializing in regenerative medicine. “We will examine if an experimental injectable drug we developed to promote tissue regeneration might help restore bone that is lost due to PD.”
Along with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Berkeley, Dr. Heber-Katz received her five-year grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research to evaluate the ability of their injectable drug to regenerate bone. This grant received a top two percentile score among submitted grants, reflecting NIH’s enthusiasm for this unique research.
This important work was founded in the basic research Dr. Heber-Katz did more than a decade ago with the discovery of a strain of mice that is able to completely regenerate lost tissue. Previously, it was thought that mammals did not have this capability, unlike amphibians such as newts that can regenerate tissue normally.
Over many years of careful research, Dr. Heber-Katz and her colleagues learned how the regenerative process occurs in these mice, illuminating a key role for a protein called HIF-1alpha that contributes not only to the formation of blood vasculature but causes cells to become immature and can then replace all lost tissue. With the new grant, studies of bone regeneration will continue in a preclinical model of PD that is directly relevant to the human disease, in efforts to advance to the clinic a workable experimental treatment.
“We are grateful to the NIH for the opportunity to test our hypothesis that modulating the HIF-1alpha protein’s mechanism with injectable drug hydrogel that we developed could lead to significant bone regeneration,” she said.
During its long course of development, Dr. Heber-Katz’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, State of Pennsylvania, and several private foundations, including the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust, The G. Harold & Leila Y. Mathers Foundation, and the F.M. Kirby Foundation. Visit Dr. Heber-Katz's LIMR profile for more on her research.