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UConn Health Diaz Laboratory

Research Projects

Ecology of microbial communities in chronic periodontitis.

Chronic periodontitis is an inflammatory disease of the supporting structures of teeth with a high prevalence world-wide. The development of periodontitis is attributed to shifts in the structure of the microbial communities that inhabit the subgingival environment. Although decades of research efforts have been instrumental in understanding these shifts, it was only recently, with the advent of high throughput sequencing, that we were able to obtain a global view of the changes in microbial communities from health to periodontitis. Clinical studies from our laboratory have identified the most prevalent and abundant health- and disease-associated bacterial species and also a group we named “core-species” which appeared in a majority of subjects and at equal prevalent and relative abundance in health and disease (see Abusleme et al. ISME J 2013). Unraveling the taxonomic composition of subgingival microbial communities, however, is only the first step in obtaining a deeper understanding of the events that lead to periodontitis. Current research efforts in the Diaz lab focus on advancing knowledge on the pathophysiology of this condition via clinical studies, in vitro investigations and animal models. Our human clinical studies will continue to use high throughput sequencing to characterize microbial populations in periodontitis at the 16S rRNA and metagenomic levels uncovering their association with different site-specific and host level modifiers. In parallel we are also developing relevant models where to uncover the host and environmental factors and inter-species relationships important for the establishment of pathogenic communities. Our models include continuous culture systems and periodontitis animal models. Our long terms goal is to understand the ecological events that lead to the colonization/overgrowth of disease-associated species and develop ecology-based strategies for periodontitis.

The oral microbiome during cancer chemotherapy and its role in oral mucositis.

Oral mucosal injury (“cositis”) is a common complication of cytotoxic cancer therapies consisting of painful, debilitating lesions in the oral mucosa that impact patient well-being and cancer treatment outcomes. While the cancer treatment regimen is the triggering event for development of the lesions, it is likely that the complex microbiota associated with oral mucosal surfaces affects the course and/or severity of mucositis. This clinical project evaluates the changes in the fungal and bacterial components of the oral microbiome during cancer chemotherapy and the relationship between these changes, immunosuppression and oral mucositis.