Spring 2015
Grant promotes research opportunities between institutions

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Michael Neubauer, DDS, and Kenneth Izuora, M.D.

Dental disease and diabetes

Michael Neubauer, DDS, left, and Kenneth Izuora, M.D., at a UNLV dental student training lab, are investigating a possible link between dental disease and diabetes. Photo by Edgar Antonio Núñez.

UNLV, School of Medicine collaborating on diabetes, periodontal disease

Story by Anne McMillin, APR

Inter-institutional collaborations are a cornerstone of the Mountain West Clinical Translational Research Infrastructure Network (CTR-IN). The University of Nevada, Reno is one of 13 university partners in the five-year, $20.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health that is hosted at UNLV, with the University of Nevada School of Medicine having a leadership role in several areas.

Funding for this grant comes from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences through the Institutional Development Award program to enhance the caliber of scientific faculty at research institutions in historically underfunded states, like Nevada.

Though most CTR-IN universities have successful programs in basic science, they lack capacity in clinical research, as well as bench-to-bedside (translational) research—and have limited resources to support faculty conducting this type of work. Only three partner institutions participating in the network have medical schools, and the two outside of Nevada—the Universities of New Mexico and Hawaii—each have other NIH funding that provides some additional resources to local and network investigators.

With this grant, Nevada achieves similar leadership capability.

Launched in September 2013, the CTR-IN addresses regional health concerns including access to care, cultural issues as they relate to health, cancer, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular and infectious diseases. Much of the budget is devoted to grants that support research by promising investigators, and collaborations—through visiting scholar and mini-sabbatical awards—that will help build careers in clinical or translational research. The largest awards are for pilot grants.

“The pilot grant program is focused on helping investigators collect preliminary data, publish early results, and round out their research skills through interaction with a mentor, so that they can then assemble a comprehensive proposal that will be competitive at the NIH or another major funding agency,” said program director Robert Langer, M.D., MPH, a physician and epidemiologist with more than 25 years of related research experience. Langer is associate dean for clinical and translational research and professor of family medicine at the School of Medicine as well as a research professor at UNLV’s School of Allied Health Sciences.

One of the 35 pilot grants awarded thus far supports new collaborative research between the School of Medicine’s Kenneth Izuora, M.D., endocrinologist and director of the school’s diabetes center on the Las Vegas campus and Michael Neubauer, DDS, a periodontist with the UNLV School of Dental Medicine. Dentistry and medicine have come together to conduct research into the reciprocal relationship between diabetes and dental disease.

“I was seeing patients with diabetes who had lost their teeth and wanted to look at how having diabetes affects periodontal disease,” said Izuora.

“Being in the same building as the UNLV School of Dental Medicine offers many benefits from collaboration and many opportunities from interaction,” he explained.

Neubauer agrees.

“It has been a positive experience to do this experimental study. I’d be willing to work with the School of Medicine again on future grant-funded research,” Neubauer said, of his first collaborative research effort with the medical school.

Using a questionnaire, Izuora determined that more than 80 percent of his patients with diabetes also have some form of periodontal disease. Two dozen medical school diabetes patients were then selected for intervention. Their diabetes was kept stable while they were screened and treated for periodontal disease at UNLV. Blood and urine samples were collected to determine the changes in the biomarkers of diabetes complications following treatment for periodontal disease.

Neubauer credits Civon Gewelber, DDS, with the UNLV School of Dental Medicine’s general practice residency program, for doing the bulk of the patient treatments for periodontal disease. The general practice residency graduate program trains dentists on how to treat medically-compromised patients.

“She does the non-surgical periodontal therapies including root-planing and scaling, which is very time consuming,” Neubauer explained.

“And she gets all the dental data we need, in the way we need it for the study.”

The biomarker samples are currently at a University of Tennessee laboratory where assays are being run. Outcomes will be submitted to scientific journals for publication consideration.

Langer added that in addition to the collaborations stimulated in the universities in the grant’s consortium, the network also provides resources to foster the development of emerging researchers including online educational offerings, help in linking with mentors and help with study design and biostatistics. In fact, each of the 13 partner institutions has a one-day-a-week biostatistician devoted to working with faculty who want to conduct projects through the CTR-IN.

UNLV coordinates the network grant through its School of Allied Health Sciences. Four other universities have leadership roles in the Key Component Activities that provide administrative support, mentoring, education, biostatistical support and manage the pilot grant program. The School of Medicine is one, along with the Universities of New Mexico, Montana and Hawaii.