Temporomandibular disorder affects 35 million people in the United States. Some of the condition’s telltale symptoms — pain, stiffness and popping of the jaw — can impact oral health, so researchers from the Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry (TAMBCD) have forged a concentrated effort to understand more about this complex condition.

photo of Christina Barry

Christina Barry is among more than 60 students from the Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry who will be presenting research at the school’s 42nd Annual Research Scholars Day in April.

Second-year dental student Christina Barry has dedicated the past three summers to analyzing how the protein interleukin-23 affects temporomandibular joint inflammation in rat models.

Barry’s research began in January 2012 while she was still a graduate student at Long Island University in New York, studying biomedical science with an emphasis in immunology. She moved to Dallas prior to starting dental school in fall 2013 to work on the project with former TAMBCD faculty member Dr. Robert Spears.

Her research revealed that interleukin-23 may contribute to inflammation in the temporomandibular joint through the release of proinflammatory cytokines, proteins that regulate cells in the immune system. While more study is needed, the findings mean that potential therapies could include anti-interleukin 23 treatment.

Barry presented these findings to her professors in New York as a part her master’s degree requirements, and in March, she was one of 25 TAMBCD students who presented research during the American Association for Dental Research annual meeting in Boston.

“This research experience made me realize that disease states or disorders do not have just a clear-cut answer,” Barry said. “Many different factors contribute to the expression or non-expression of a diseased state. Genetics and environmental factors equally play important roles.”

Barry is one of more than 60 student researchers who will present their findings on April 1 during the 42nd Annual Research Scholars Day at TAMBCD. The event offers predoctoral dental and dental hygiene students as well as graduate students and residents the chance to showcase their findings. For many, it serves as the culmination of the Predoctoral Research Fellow Program, a TAMBCD mainstay that exposes students to the research arena within dental academics.

— Jennifer Fuentes