U of T researcher explores use of DNA nanotechnology to regenerate teeth

"Most treatments currently in dentistry involve filling the tooth with materials that don’t make the tooth stronger – in fact, they actually weaken them”

Mercedes Ing, who is in her first year of U of T’s pediatric graduate dentistry program, talks about her research into using DNA nanotechnology to regenerate teeth during a recent Three Minute Thesis competition (photo by Jeff Comber)

Researchers in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Dentistry are exploring the use of DNA nanotechnology to regenerate biologic materials – including teeth.

Mercedes Ing, who is currently in her first year of the faculty’s pediatric graduate dentistry program, is taking research related to bone regeneration that’s being conducted by a PhD student in the faculty and applying it in a way that could one day reduce the need for cavity fillings.

She says the bone regeneration research has already shown promise in pre-clinical studies. 

“Two different solutions of DNA are mixed together to make a gel where the DNA forms a structure that acts like scaffolding, attracting minerals to help regenerate the bone,” says Ing, who is working in the lab of Assistant Professor Karina Carneiro.

She adds that injecting DNA gel has aided with bone healing and that by applying the bone results to teeth, “we want to see how the gel performs in the environment of human saliva and human cells, and how it can help remineralize dentin in teeth.”

Ing says the developing field of nanotechnology has a lot of potential, which she can already see with this research – even in its preliminary stages.

“The cool thing about this is most treatments currently in dentistry involve filling the tooth with materials that don’t make the tooth stronger – in fact, they actually weaken them,” says Ing, who chose her area of research, in part, because of Carneiro, who taught her biomaterials during her dentistry degree. “This could be extremely promising if we’re able to use the DNA gel to rebuild the dentin of the tooth.”

Using DNA as a tool for regeneration could also yield other benefits for patients, including preventing root canals and additional invasive dental visits, she says.

“Nowadays, in pediatric dentistry especially, we are trying to move towards minimally invasive dentistry and fewer visits,” says Ing. “The ultimate goal is to be able to apply this gel to help promote more healing.”

Morris Manolson, the Faculty of Dentistry’s vice-dean, research, and Mercedes Ing at the faculty's 2024 Three Minute Thesis award presentation (Jeff Comber)

Ing presented her research at the Faculty of Dentistry’s Three-Minute-Thesis competition earlier this year and was chosen as the winner, moving on to the larger, U of T-wide competition.

“I was happy to win for my supervisors – they were really encouraging and supportive,” says Ing, referring to Carneiro and Anuradha Prakki, associate dean, undergraduate education. “I’m excited to represent the faculty in the next round and also to see the breadth of research from around the entire university.”


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