Studying oral disease in the laboratory with biofilm models

Georgios Belibasakis researches the bacterial ecosystem of the mouth and how it can thrive in symbiosis with its host – or cause diseases such as caries, periodontitis and peri-implantitis. Belibasakis’ main research tools involve models in which he examines how different bacteria work together to form biofilms and interact with the host.

Georgios Belibasakis

Professor of Clinical Oral Infection Biology at the Department of Dental Medicine

Professor Georgios Belibasakis. Foto: Stefan Zimmerman

Our mouths are ecosystems in which different microorganisms interact with each other – and with us. Georgios Belibasakis studies how this interaction takes place and what happens when changes in this ecosystem start to damage the teeth and gums.

“Diseases like caries and periodontitis are normally caused by the same bacteria we’ve always had in our mouths in low numbers and that, until then, we’ve lived in symbiosis with,” says Professor Belibasakis.

When oral bacteria have a chance to grow on the tooth surface, they form complex communities called biofilms. To study the process of biofilm formation and role in disease, Professor Belibasakis utilizes three-dimensional biofilm models. These models enables him to monitor how different bacteria cooperate within the biofilm, and how this interacts with dental or periodontal tissues, to instigate disease.

“We can see how the bacteria adopt different roles in the biofilm, and some species seem to control the behaviour of others. We’ve also developed these models in co-culture with different host tissues, and from their interaction we can deduce how the biofilms affect the tissue to cause disease.”

Professor Belibasakis hopes that his research will lead to new methods of diagnosis and treatment.

“We know so much more today, but this knowledge has not yet led to the development of methods to prevent and treat dental caries or periodontal disease. There is much to do here. Early diagnosis is also important – the earlier the problems are caught the less damage caused.”

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in "From Cell to Society" 2016.

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