Four students named to dental school’s newest cohort of Summer Research Scholars

Four students in the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine’s Class of 2027 have been named Summer Research Scholars. They are working alongside dental school faculty on research projects that aim to change the future of oral health care.

From left, Joshua Williams, Liam Hopfensperger, DaQuan Mebane and Abdullah Amer are the ECU School of Dental Medicine’s 2023 Summer Research Scholars. (Photo by Jon Jones)

Abdullah Amer, Liam Hopfensperger, DaQuan Mebane and Joshua Williams will conduct their research projects before beginning dental school in August. The four scholars will present their research results at the Brody School of Medicine’s annual Medical Student Scholar Day on July 31 and at the dental school’s Celebration of Research and Scholarship in February 2024.

Amer graduated with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from UNC Greensboro in 2020 and a Master of Science in physiology from N.C. State University in 2022. He is working on a project titled “Oral Health Literacy of Pregnant Women in a Rural Area in Eastern North Carolina” with mentors Drs. Vanessa Pardi and Mark Moss.

“Our project looks at the association of oral health knowledge, perceived oral health-related quality of life, oral health literacy and infant feeding intentions in pregnant women,” said Amer, of High Point. “The goal is to survey 200 individuals at OB-GYN offices and use this information to better understand the current knowledge of oral health and how oral health affects daily life.”

Amer said he is drawn to this research topic because of the importance of oral health care in daily life.

“We aim to see what people are currently going through with oral health in terms of obstacles to getting treatment and if there are any misconceptions or problems,” he said. “From there, we want to make access to treatment for these individuals easier and work on the obstacles they present in the system, so they can get care.”

Hopfensperger is a 2019 graduate of UNC Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Science in biology and with minors in Chinese language and culture and English creative writing. He will be mentored by Drs. Xiaoxi Cui and Wenjian Zhang on a clinical project titled “CBCT Analysis of Nasal Cavity and Nasopalatine Canal Anatomy in Relation to Maxillary Incisors.” The project involves using cone beam computed tomography analysis of over 150 ECU patients to determine the anatomical relationship between the maxillary central incisors and the nasal cavity.

Hopfensperger, a native of Chapel Hill and Timberlake, said the project topic interested him because he wants to learn more about implant dentistry and the application of digital technology in that area.

“This study brings me closer to the clinical aspects of the field,” he said. “According to literature, there is a gap in knowledge regarding the position of the nasal cavity and nasopalatine canal in relation to implant placement in tooth sites Nos. 8 and 9. This is an incredibly esthetically important area; if I am able to further the knowledge of this topic, it could hopefully impact a number of patients who have notable esthetic defects.”

Mebane received his Bachelor of Science in biology from ECU in 2020 and a Master of Science in biological and biomedical sciences from N.C. Central University in 2023. His project is titled “Angiotensin II-Stimulated Oxidative Stress in H9C2 Cells and the Influence of Angiotensin 1-7 on the Expression of Angiotensin II receptor 1.” He will be mentored by Drs. Azeez Aileru and Berwin Singh Swami Vethra.

The Colerain native said his project will address high blood pressure in the aging population, especially in Black patients.

“The prevalence of hypertension among African Americans in the United States is among the highest in the world, combined with African Americans also suffering from this condition earlier in life compared to other ethnic groups,” Mebane said. “I believe having a better understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms of hypertension can help us better understand why African Americans have disproportionately high rates of hypertension and help aid in the development of better treatment options for all who suffer from this condition.”

Williams earned his Bachelor of Science in biology from ECU in 2023. He will be mentored by Drs. Saulo Geraldeli, Gabriel Abuna and Ramiro Murata on a project titled “2-Aminomidazole Incorporated into Acrylamide-Based Adhesive – Biofilm Inhibition and Biostability.”

Williams, from Charlotte, will study the way an antibiofilm agent incorporated into dental adhesive can inhibit biofilm production.

Patients that receive treatment for a dental cavity will likely need a secondary procedure in the lifetime of a tooth-colored filling. This is not due to the practicing dentist but the dental materials currently available,” Williams said. “The goal of this research is to incorporate 2-AI into dental adhesive to create resin resistant to the common bacteria we find in dental caries. This will benefit the longevity of dentistry and could be a steppingstone for oral cavity prevention.”