During Periodontitis–a particularly nasty gum disease–the gums start to pull away from teeth, allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Thusly, it effectively damages soft tissues and ruins teeth supporting bone structures. Periodontitis can also increase a patient’s risk of stroke, heart attack, and other health problems. Worst of all, it affects nearly 50% of all U.S. adults.
Thankfully, University of Pennsylvania researchers believe that they’ve found a new way to treat Periodontitis by targeting the third part of a component of the immune system known as the “complement” or C3, which plays a major role in the triggering of inflammation. The researchers led by George Hajishengalli, a professor at the Penn Dental Department of Microbiology, and John Lambris, a researcher with Penn Medicine’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine led a team of researchers, treated monkeys with a complement inhibitor, which prevented bone loss and inflammation caused by periodontitis.
“Our work demonstrates a proof-of-concept that complement-targeted therapies can interfere with disease-promoting mechanisms,” said Hajishengalli.
“We think this drug offers a promising possibility for treating adults with periodontitis,” said Lambris. “Blocking C3 locally in the mouth helps shift the balance of bacteria, producing an overall beneficial effect.”
The researchers found that whichever treatment they utilized had to eliminate inflammation completely because Porphyromonas gingivalis, the periodontitis bacterium, feeds off of inflammation, allowing it to inhibit immune cells from clearing the infection and creating an environment where other bacteria could thrive.
“P. gingivalis has many mechanisms to escape killing by the immune system, but getting rid of inflammation altogether is not good for them because they ‘feed’ off of it,” said Hajishengallis. “So P. gingivalis helps suppress the immune system in a way that creates a hospitable environment for the other bacteria.”
The study was published in the Journal of Immunology, titled “Genetic and Intervention Studies Implicating Complement C3 as a Major Target for the Treatment of Periodontitis.”
The team hopes that they can further their studies to determine a way to safely use the treatment on humans.