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4 from Dentistry Involved in MCubed 2.0 Research Initiatives

Ann Arbor, MI — December 3, 2015 — Four University of Michigan School of Dentistry faculty involved in three pioneering research projects were funded in Round 1 of the university’s MCubed 2.0 initiative.

Established in 2012, MCubed stimulates innovative research and scholarship by distributing real-time seed funding to multi-unit, faculty-led teams on campus who form a collaborative trio, or “cube,” that enables them to immediately pursue their idea.  School of Dentistry faculty involved in new cubes are Drs. Noriaki Ono, Wanida Ono, Fei Liu and Paul Krebsbach.


Dr. Noriaki Ono, an assistant professor in the Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry is involved in research focusing on biological processes of bone growth and Hedgehog signaling, a set of proteins that regulate cell growth and development of tissues in humans and animals. 

Sometimes hedgehog signaling does not function as it should and may, in some instances, cause cancers in adult skin (such as basal cell carcinoma) or in the brains of some children (medulloblastoma).  Drugs designed to reduce hedgehog signaling are being developed, but these drugs are causing some concern since they may also stop the normal growth of tissues.  The effect of these drugs on bones seems irreversible and may permanently stop bone growth.  “We hope to find a solution to save bone growth in young patients who receive these drugs to fight cancer,” Ono said.

Ono’s MCubed research colleagues are Dr. Sunny Wong, an assistant professor of Dermatology and assistant professor of Cell and Development Biology at the Medical School, and Dr. Wanida Ono, an assistant professor and clinical lecturer in the Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry.


Dr. Fei Liu, an assistant professor in the Department of Biologic and Materials Sciences, Division of Prosthodontics, conducts research that focuses on the cell and molecular biology of mineralized tissues with an emphasis on skeletal and craniofacial bone development and diseases.

His MCubed project involves a disease called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC).  It is caused by a mutation of genes which results in a sharp increase in activity of a protein complex called “mammalian target of repamycin complex 1” (mTORC1), a nutrient/energy sensor.  When a rise in the activity of that protein complex occurs, TSC patients often have sclerotic craniofacial bones, Liu says. 

Liu says his team of researchers, using mouse models, has duplicated craniofacial bone lesions in patients with TSC.  “We want to know what underlying mechanisms may be responsible for increased bone mass and altered bone quality in these patients,” he says.  “Once we know that, hopefully, we can develop new therapies to help increase bone volume and density around dental implants or treat patients with osteoporosis,” he says.

Liu’s MCubed research colleagues are Dr. Andrea Alford, a research assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Medical School, and Dr. Qing Li, an assistant professor of internal medicine and an assistant professor of cell and developmental biology at the Medical School.


Dr. Paul Krebsbach, chair of the Department of Biologic and Materials Sciences, is working with colleagues from the College of Engineering to try to determine the nanomechanical composition of living biological systems.  The effort will involve use of atomic force microscopy, a powerful tool, that will enable scientists to better understand the extremely small (nanoscale) mechanical properties of living cells and organs.

“Having successfully developed a technique to measure the forces at work on such a small scale, we intend to further develop this tool with the goal of advancing nanotechnologies in health care and biotechnology,” Krebsbach said.  His MCubed research colleagues are Dr. Peter Green, professor of engineering and chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the College of Engineering, and Dr. Omolola Eniola-Adefeso, associate professor of the chemical engineering and associate professor of biomedical engineering, also with the College of Engineering.