From the WashU Newsroom…
An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the School of Engineering & Applied Science is redefining the notion of a wisdom tooth.
The team is developing a smart-tooth technology that could someday be used to detect early signs of certain diseases in high-risk patients by analyzing saliva or gingival crevicular fluid.
“Salivary-based biosensors have generated a lot of interest because of their potential for wide applications in medicine,” said Erica Lynn Scheller, who trained as a dentist and is now an assistant professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology in the School of Medicine. “We’re initially working to develop a biological sensor that measures specific peptides active in periodontal disease and that would be used in combination with a wireless device to retrieve that data.”
“It’s like an electronic tooth,” said Shantanu Chakrabartty, professor of electrical & systems engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and a partner on the project, currently funded by a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
That electronic tooth is actually a tiny sensor and an electronic chip, about a few millimeters-cube in volume. It is designed to be inserted inside the patient’s gum line or as part of a dental appliance, and contains bio-recognition elements that measure disease-specific peptides, which are natural or synthetic groups of amino acids. As a first attempt, the research team will work toward monitoring peptides related to bone breakdown during periodontitis, a dental disease that can lead to loosening and loss of teeth. A wireless ultrasound device would then be used to read the peptide levels and connect to the medical data-cloud.
Right now, one of the project’s biggest challenges is chemistry.
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