Dr. Le’s research focuses on investigating mesenchymal stem cells from adult oral tissues. Together with collaborators, she isolated and characterized adult stem cells from gingival tissue—a discovery she patented while at USC. Studying those stem cells further, Dr. Le proposed a new mechanism by which they might aid in wound healing; they proposed that the stem cells may modify the environment of the wound. This new concept, that stem cells are the conductors rather than the musicians in the orchestra of wound repair, earned Dr. Le and her colleagues NIH funding and a wealth of new avenues of research to explore, all aimed at regenerating missing craniofacial tissue.
Those threads of research connect to another area of investigation for Dr. Le —the study of bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaw, or BRONJ. It is a condition involving degeneration of the mandible that can arise after taking certain bisphosphonate-based drugs to treat cancer or prevent bone loss associated with osteoporosis.
Research by Dr. Le and collaborators in mice has identified biomarkers that put individuals at a higher risk of developing ONJ. They have found that an infusion of mesenchymal stem cells can cure the condition in mice—a promising breakthrough for patients with this debilitating and painful disease.