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Forsyth clinic contributes to research on gum disease and Alzheimer’s

Could plaque in our gums be linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease?

That’s the finding from a new study published recently in the journal Science Advances, in which researchers examined brain tissue samples from 53 patients with Alzheimer’s. The research team was looking for toxic enzymes known as gingipains. Gingipains are secreted by bacteria called P. gingivalis, which is known to be associated with gum disease. Researchers found gingipains in 96 percent of the brain tissue samples they tested from Alzheimer’s patients.

The study describes for the first time that a key oral bacterium in gum disease and its toxic enzymes can colonize in the brain. The research suggests that maintaining gum health could lower one’s risk for developing P. gingivalis-induced Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Hatice Hasturk is Director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Research (CCTR) at the Forsyth Institute and an author on the study. She led a clinical trial collecting saliva and dental plaque from patients with severe gum disease. Dr. Hasturk and her team detected high levels of P. gingivalis DNA and gingipains in the saliva and dental plaque of patients with periodontal disease. These results were part of the larger study linking P. gingivalis and gingipains to Alzheimer’s disease.

In a separate experiment, researchers treated the plaque and saliva samples with an experimental drug called COR388. They found the drug was effective in inhibiting the growth of P. gingivalis bacteriaThis suggests that COR388 could be a potential therapeutic option for P. gingivalis-induced inflammatory diseases, including Alzheimer’s. Cortexyme, the company that sponsored the study and invented COR388, is now continuing its investigation into the efficacy of the drug.

Forsyth’s CCTR has a long history of leading clinical trials and other research projects focused on periodontal disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and several other local and systemic diseases, Dr. Hasturk said.  

“We have unique expertise in recruitment of targeted patient populations, plus a range of techniques and protocols we’ve developed that can be used and modified to fit specific research goals,” Dr. Hasturk said. “The center also has a multilayer understanding of microbiological, immunological, tissue and molecular biology, with successful investigations in each of these areas over the years.”

CCTR offers a comprehensive team of study coordinators, a director of clinical trials, principal investigators, and an internal review board, which can offer a thorough and efficient review process, implementation, and successful completion of clinical trials.

“Our mission is to translate innovative and significant research questions into the clinic and vice versa,” Dr. Hasturk said. “We can test basic science ideas or new discoveries chair-side in a clinical setting, or explore pathways of diseases of human populations bench-side in the lab.”

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