Dental News

Significant Progress Made in Gene Therapy Research for Oral Health Problems

Jan 16, 2002 

CHICAGO – Significant progress has occurred in gene therapy research, including treatment for head and neck cancers and repair of damaged salivary glands, according to a follow-up report by researchers in the January 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA).

Advances in gene therapy relevant to dentistry since 1995 have been noteworthy, according to the report’s lead author Bruce J. Baum, D.M.D, Ph.D. “They include such areas as treatment for head and neck cancers, repair of bony defects caused by periodontal disease, trauma or surgery, and therapy for salivary gland dysfunction,” he said.

Dr. Baum is chief of Gene Therapy and Therapeutics Branch, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the National Institutes of Health. In 1995, he coauthored a JADA article on the potential impact of gene therapy on dentistry by the year 2015.

“The 1995 review addressed initial efforts in three areas of orally related gene transfer research,” he said. “This new review addresses seven areas of relevant research, and for all seven, substantive proofs of concept have been shown in animal models.”

The seven areas are cancer, DNA vaccinations, salivary glands, autoimmune disease, pain, bone repair and keratinocytes (most abundant soft tissue cell inside the mouth).

Gene transfer studies related to the treatment of head and neck cancer have shown the most significant progress since 1995, and the progress in salivary gland studies has been much more rapid than anticipated, according to Dr. Baum.

“Cancer-related gene therapy appears effective as an adjunctive therapy for head and neck cancers,” he explained. “Although we still consider current gene transfer methods to be fairly primitive, and associated with significant problems, gene therapy’s acceptance as part of the routine clinical armamentarium, at least for some applications (like head and neck cancers), seems very close.”

Advances in salivary gland research, including NIDCR studies in animal models, show repair of damaged salivary glands and therapeutic applications to systemic diseases are possible through gene transfer technology, Dr. Baum said.

Although applications of DNA vaccination are in the earliest stages, it seems reasonable to suggest that these approaches will play a role in future strategies for preventing periodontal diseases and dental caries (tooth decay), according to the JADA article.

“While considerable problems remain, gene therapy will have a pervasive and significant impact on areas of dentistry that are based in biological science,” he said. “By 2015, this will translate into dentists having a wide range of potential treatment options.” For information on more oral health topics, visit

Note: Although the article referenced above appears in The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), it does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of the American Dental Association (ADA).