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Research pair wins Proof of Concept Grant with filling fix

26 August 2011

Otago research pair wins Proof of Concept Grant with filling fix

Development of silver nanoparticle-based materials for treating dental caries has won two University of Otago researchers the 2011 Otago Innovation Proof of Concept Grant worth $50,000.

Senior Lecturer in the Otago School of Dentistry Dr Don Schwass and Chemistry Lecturer Dr Carla Meledandri are together researching the application of silver-nanoparticles as a way to deliver and maintain antibacterial effects deep within the tooth.

Their aim is to create a product that eliminates bacteria and prevents their recurrence under and around fillings.

The Proof of Concept Grant will help fund their efforts to prove that these ultra-small nanoparticles are effective on teeth, as well as to conduct toxicity studies and then take the work to a stage that will interest dental materials manufacturers

The pair say the project began with Dr Schwass’s interest in new strategies for prevention of dental caries (tooth decay).

“I was twenty years in private practice as a dentist,” says Dr Schwass, “so I saw the limitations of existing treatment approaches and early intervention strategies. Most restorative materials break down over time allowing bacterial infections to reactivate. I was looking for a product that could effectively eliminate bacteria, providing lasting protection even when materials start to fail.”

Dr Schwass felt the chemical compound silver diamine fluoride showed real promise, but when applied on teeth it leaves an unappealing black silver fluoride deposit on the cavity surface of carious lesions, which is not particularly desirable for a dental product.

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“Subsequent application of potassium iodide can turn this black deposit into a more appealing white colour, but the concentrations at which these chemicals need to be applied to impart the desired effect is surprisingly high.

“I then had a chance encounter with Carla at a speed-collaboration exercise for Otago academic researchers where we got to discuss our interests for two minutes,” he says.

Dr Meledandri says, “Don came up to me afterwards and said, ‘about those nanoparticles you’re interested in...’”

In partnership with Dr Schwass, Dr Meledandri developed suspensions of silver nanoparticle-based materials which testing showed to have tremendously potent anti-bacterial qualities at very low concentrations. At these concentrations, the nanoparticle suspensions appear pale yellow in colour, or more often, completely colourless, solving the aesthetics problem.

Otago Innovation, the University of Otago’s commercialisation arm, will work closely with the researchers as the project advances, assisting them in translating their project into a marketable product.

Otago Innovation Commercialisation Manager David Christensen says all University of Otago researchers are invited to enter the annual competition for the Proof of Concept Grant. The competition is intended to encourage researchers to consider possible commercial applications for their work. The grant itself is intended to assist the winning research project transition from the point of initial discovery toward commercialisation.

“This year we had over a dozen applicants from a broad range of disciplines,” Mr Christensen says. “The competition panel short-listed that down to three. The probability of Don and Carla’s work succeeding, the potential for a robust patent position to be created around it, their professionalism, credibility and competence combined to win them the prize.”


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