Faculty Receives NIH Grant to Study Oral Infection Through 2025, One of the Longest Running Grant Renewals in School of Dental Medicine History

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Oropharyngeal candidiasis, or oral thrush, continues to be a clinically significant problem for patients with weakened immune systems.

Dr. Anna Dongari-Bagtzoglou, Professor and Department Head of Oral Health and Diagnostic Sciences at the UConn School of Dental Medicine, recently received a $3 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue to study the pathogenesis of oral thrush through 2025. Dongari’s research focus is on understanding mechanisms of disease that can lead to novel antifungal treatments.

Dongari first received this grant in 2000 and renewed it for five cycles, making it one of the longest running R01 grant renewal in School of Dental Medicine history.

Dongari’s lab has recently focused on the relationship between the human microbiome and the molecular pathogenesis of oral thrush by analyzing the host, the fungal and the oral bacteriome changes during the disease process.

Oral thrush manifests as white or red lesions in the mucous membrane of the mouth. While the infection is typically painless, the signs and symptoms can be more severe for immunocompromised patients who are prone to invasive fungal infections.

“The studies conducted in my lab have the potential to lead to a paradigm shift in how clinicians and scientists view the microbiome changes characterizing this infection,” said Dongari.

The new funding will identify certain oral bacteria as new, clinically relevant facilitators of invasive fungal disease. This will provide justification for the combined use of antifungal and antibacterial treatments in high risk patients, such as patients undergoing intensive cancer chemotherapy who are particularly susceptible to this infection.

Dr. Takanori Sobue, Associate Professor at the School of Dental Medicine, and Dr. Yanjiao Zhou, Assistant Professor of Medicine, are co-Investigators for this latest round of funding.

More recently, Dongari’s lab introduced a new pathological framework for oral thrush that includes the synergy of ubiquitous members of the oral bacteriome, disproving the longstanding notion that most oral bacteria have an antagonistic relationship with Candida albicans, a fungal organism most commonly responsible for this infection.

In recognition of her scientific contributions to the field, Dongari was recently elected Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology—the honorific leadership group of the American Society for Microbiology.

This project is funded by NIH grant number RO1DE013986