Student Successes

Dawn Wagenknecht

Ph.D. in Oral Biology

What degree are you working toward?

PhD in Oral Biology in the Department of Biomedical and Applied Sciences, IU School of Dentistry

Why did you choose graduate school at IUPUI?

I am working while pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical and Applied Sciences to earn qualifications to become Director of the HLA-Vascular Biology Laboratory at Franciscan Health Indianapolis. IUPUI is close to home and offers outstanding educational opportunities with flexible scheduling.

What has been your favorite academic accomplishment since you’ve been here?

Passing my qualifying exams and approval of my research project.

I especially like that with the growth of the city, the people of Indianapolis have preserved a feeling of sincerity, honesty and community.

What do you enjoy most about life in Indianapolis?

I’ve lived in Indianapolis most of my adult life and have watched the city grow from “nap town”, as I have seen it called, to a vibrant city with cultural and social diversity. I especially like that with the growth of the city, the people of Indianapolis have preserved a feeling of sincerity, honesty and community.

Please provide some details about your work/research as a graduate student and/or any activities you are involved in.

My dissertation project involves the role of oral bacteria in the nascent formation and growth of atheroma leading to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Bacteria form biofilms in the oral cavity and are the source of specific species of bacteria which enter the blood stream when oral tissues are disrupted by hygiene (tooth brushing), dental procedures and oral disease. Oral bacteria have been identified in human atherosclerotic plaques. Tobacco use is associated with increased risk of both cardiac and oral disease. My research focuses on the effects of nicotine on oral bacteria and on endothelial cells lining our blood vessels. My hypothesis is that exposure to tobacco products enhances the interactions between oral bacteria and endothelial cells; and by these interactions may promote atherosclerotic plaque formation and development.

Specifically, the goal of my project is to elucidate the mechanisms by which the causative agent of dental caries, Streptococcus mutans, interacts with endothelial cells with and without the pressure of nicotine exposure. I will investigate serotype k strains of S. mutans to gain insight into the increased prevalence of serotype k strains in diseased cardiovascular tissues compared to the oral cavity of the same subjects. My project bridges published studies of S.mutans in atherosclersclerotic plaques with observational studies reporting smoking is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular and oral diseases. Understanding the impact of smoking on the interactions between blood-borne bacteria and the endothelium will potentially aid in the understanding of how atherosclerosis develops and may lead to methods to prevent and treat the disease.