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Dental polymers developed

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 07 - October 6, 1994

Researchers from Virginia Tech, the University of North Carolina, and the University of London have received more than a million dollars in two grants for research programs involving dental and medical applications of polymer composites, including research to replace present filling materials such as mercury amalgams with non-toxic composites, to develop soft linings for dentures, and to develop implants that can slowly release long-term drugs into a patient's system.

Sid Kalachandra, senior research faculty member with Virginia Tech's National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center for High Performance Polymeric Adhesives and Composites, is principal investigator on the two projects. This summer, he received a three-year, $554,000 grant from the National Institute for Dental Research for (NIDR) work on the development of composite filling materials.

Most dental cavities are now filled with a mercury-based amalgam. "It is very good but difficult to handle in the lab because of restrictions to safeguard workers from mercury poisoning," Kalachandra said. He predicts that such materials will be banned in the near future. He and colleagues James McGrath, who heads Virginia Tech's NSF center, and Duane Taylor, a material scientist at the University of North Carolina, expect to identify several potential replacement materials for clinical trials by the end of the three-year grant period.

Kalachandra and Taylor have also been working with researchers Mike Braden and Sandra Parker at the University of London's medical college to develop soft relining materials based on polymer blends to cushion hard dentures, making them more comfortable. A previously awarded half-million dollar grant from NIDR was renewed in mid September for two more years to develop the denture liner. The effort also includes research to develop a means to deliver slow-releasing long-term drugs through the saliva to prevent HIV oral infections.

Kalachandra, McGrath, and Taylor have been cooperating on developing polymers for dental applications for a number of years. The grants will make it possible to expand the effort within the NSF center, providng funds for facilities, materials, and graduate-student and post-doctoral researchers. The enhanced effort is also attracting increased industry investment in the research.

Kalachandra recently came to Virginia Tech from UNC-Chapel Hill, where he is still an adjunct professor in the Dental Research Center.