“Ms. Woods’ research is focused on determining the effects of obesity and metabolic syndrome on oral health by investigating the changes in the oral ecosystem. Her groundbreaking results identifying an inflamed and a dysbiotic oral ecosystem in patients with obesity and MetS, even in the absence of clinical oral disease, has been recognized in regional, national, and international conferences.” – Dr. Sukirth Ganesan, Assistant Professor, Department of Periodontics
• Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska
• Faculty mentor/advisor: Dr. Sukirth Ganesan
• What is your degree program and expected graduate date? Doctor of Dental Surgery – 2023
• Please describe your research: I study Metabolic Syndrome (MetS) and their effect on the oral environment. Our lab uses cutting edge integrated -omics techniques to study the oral microbiome (bugs in our mouth), and how our body responds to them (host immune response) in patients with MetS and Obesity.
• In simple terms, why does this research matter? MetS is a constellation of abnormal factors that increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. MetS and Obesity also leads to severe and more extensive gum disease (aka periodontal disease) that causes tooth loss. One third of the US population and one half of the US adult population suffer from MetS and periodontitis respectively. We can imagine the economic and health burden of these highly prevalent diseases on our society. Our research group’s goal is to identify potential biomarkers, early indicators of disease, and therapeutic targets for periodontal disease in this high-risk MetS patients. Early prevention, early and personalized treatment are our end points.
• How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? I was able to start my first semester of dental school.
• How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? Doing research at Iowa has helped me to read scientific literature and grow into a more independent and evidence-based practitioner. Working with Dr. Ganesan, he gives me the freedom to discuss the concepts and plan the project and execute it myself. I also get an opportunity to teach and collaborate with my colleagues. It gives me a lot of confidence going into the future with treatment planning and patient interactions.
• What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? I plan on continuing my research and begin a residency in periodontics.
• Does your research have connections to or implications for COVID-19? Please explain. Studies have shown that patients with MetS have increased susceptibility (up to 5 times higher risk according to a study), increased severity, and worsened outcomes of COVID-19 infection. Additionally, the role of oral cavity and saliva in COVID-19 pathogenesis, and periodontal pocket being a reservoir for the virus is increasingly studied. With our study looking into the periodontal disease and identifying biomarkers for MetS, early identification and prevention of these diseases, will contribute to reduction in health burden.
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