Bacterial infection and inflammation

Research in this area addresses oral bacteria, their interactions with one another and the host, and their role in extra-oral diseases. Periodontal disease is a particular focus of the Philips Institute. This disease of the gums and bone that support the teeth is one of the most common illnesses in the U.S., affecting nearly half of Americans aged 30 and over and 70% of Americans 65 and older.

NIH-funded research projects examine the role of immune and inflammatory pathways and host-pathogen interactions in periodontal disease pathogenesis, periodontal pathogen virulence determinants, and interactions of these pathogens with other oral bacteria in biofilm communities.

The aim of this research is to develop an understanding of the molecular mechanisms of periodontal disease initiation and progression with the goal of developing new approaches to prevent and treat this illness. Next-generation antibiotics targeting bacteria that contribute to periodontal disease while sparing health-promoting bacteria are currently under investigation in pre-clinical trials.

Another common theme of Philips Institute researchers is examination of the contribution of oral bacteria to serious illnesses elsewhere in the body, including pregnancy complications and cardiovascular illnesses.

Philips Institute researchers apply a variety of approaches to reach their goals including genetic, genomic, metagenomic, systems biology, immunological and biochemical analyses employing in vitro-cultured cells, clinical samples, and animal models. Faculty members work closely with colleagues throughout the university and beyond, particularly in units in which they have joint appointments, including the Department of Periodontics in the School of Dentistry, the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine, and the Center for the Study of Biological Complexity in VCU Life Sciences.