The human body is home to trillions of microorganisms, and scientists are only beginning to understand how they interact with and affect health. Now, the University of Buffalo is launching 5 research projects designed to study how the microbiome and the environment affect the risks for certain diseases, with 2 of these projects paying particular attention to oral health.
“There is a lot of evidence that the microbiome is affecting human health, but we don’t have a clear idea of how,” said Jennifer Surtees, PhD, co-director of the University of Buffalo Community of Excellence in Genome, Environment, and Microbiome (GEM) and an associate professor in the department of biochemistry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
In response to this need for a deeper understanding, GEM is bringing together scientists and clinicians from different areas of expertise to collaborate and drive new research. The pilot grants award researchers up to $50,000 to develop innovative projects focused on the microbiome, supporting up to a year of research.
For example, one of the research teams will investigate whether the placenta is subject to regular bacterial invasion, as well as if any such invasion is harmful or beneficial. It will assess the medical and oral health of women throughout pregnancy and at delivery, followed by an analysis of the relationship between microbial patterns and pregnancy outcomes, especially preterm birth.
Meanwhile, there is no current method for reliably predicting the severity and onset of dental disease based on the amount of bacteria in the mouth. Another research team, then, will identify and quantify the oral population of protists. These single-cell organisms can significantly impact the size of a bacterial population. Analyzing their relationship with oral bacteria, the researchers believe, could lead to better diagnosis and interventions for preventing and treating oral diseases.