[ASC-media] Media release: new weapon against tooth decay

CRCA Media crcamedia at starclass.com.au
Tue Feb 22 01:47:25 EST 2005

CRCA Media Release 05/08

February 22, 2005


Australian scientists have discovered what could be the most effective weapon yet in the fight against tooth decay and mouth disease.

Researchers from the Cooperative Research Centre for Oral Health Science (CRC OHS) have filed patents for 'Kappacin', a peptide derived from casein, a protein in cows' milk.

Kappacin has a deadly effect on the mouth bacteria which form dental plaque.

"There's a vast unexplored territory inside every human mouth," says CRC OHS microbiologist Dr Stuart Dashper. 

"Novel research technologies have given us a whole new view of what's happening in the oral cavity.

"Until quite recently we were limited by which bacteria we could grow as a culture in the laboratory. We know now that not only do cultured bacteria behave differently to those living 'in the wild' but there are very many species which cannot be cultured at all.

"One important discovery is that bacteria living in or on the body can be up to five hundred times more resistant to anti-microbial agents than a pure strain of the bacteria in a laboratory flask."

Recent research has demonstrated that oral bacteria form dense colonies of 'biofilm' which is anchored on the teeth.

"Like seaweed on the rocks, biofilm is more than just the sum of all the individual cells which make it up," says Dr Dashper. "There's evidence that groups of cells or individuals even from different species behave in a multicellular way and communicate with one another. 

"This may have profound consequences for oral health and the prevention of decay."

Dr Dashper says that more than six hundred species of bacteria inhabit and interact in the human mouth. The behaviour of mouth bacteria is influenced and altered by the behaviour of the host human.

"We eat too much, we eat too often, and we eat too much sugar," he says. "This means that we are providing an ideal environment for bacterial biofilms, and consequently, decay."

The new antimicrobial agent Kappacin is particularly effective against one of the microbes most responsible for tooth decay, Streptococcus mutans.

Most remedies and mouthwashes on the market are less effective, according to Dr Dashper, and can also cause serious and unwanted side effects including an unacceptable taste, burning pain in the mouth, and staining of the teeth. 

Kappacin does not cause these effects.

"A great virtue of Kappacin, from Australia's point of view, is that it is made from whey, a by-product of the cheese industry," says Dr Dashper. "The industry has a problem disposing of vast amounts of whey, so it is an ideal source for a commercial oral hygiene product with a potentially huge market world-wide."

Dr Dashper says that nearly half of Australian children aged 12 show signs of tooth decay. By age seventeen this has risen to three quarters of the population, with an even higher percentage by age thirty. The cost to Australia for dental services is estimated at $2.6 billion annually.

Use of the antimicrobial agent need not be limited to human oral hygiene, says Dr Dashper.

"At this stage we have filed patents on kappacin and we are currently developing it as a human medication, but there is a vast potential in veterinary use, and we are also investigating the possibility of using the antimicrobial peptide as a food preservative," he says.

The CRC for Oral Health Science research project supports Australia's National Research Priorities Two - Promoting and Maintaining Good Health, and Three - Frontier Technologies for Transforming Industry.

More information from:
Dr Stuart Dashper, Cooperative Research Centre for Oral Health Science (CRC-OHS), 03 9341 0434 or 03 9387 8734 (ah).
Katherine Nesbitt, CRC-OHS, 03 9341 0287 or 0402 127 030

Prof. Julian Cribb, CRCA Media						0418 639 245

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