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David Kohn - December 2013

David Kohn, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, with appointments in the School of Dentistry and College of Engineering. He received his B.S. in biomedical engineering from Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, (1983) and his Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania, USA (1989).

He joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1989 and has progressed through the academic ranks. He is director of an NIDCR training program in tissue engineering. In 2000-2001, Kohn was a visiting professor in the Craniofacial and Skeletal Diseases Branch of the NIH.

Kohn’s laboratory focuses on biomineralization, which is investigated by establishing structure-function relations in mineralized tissues and utilizing this information to develop biomimetic strategies to engineer tissue. By coupling mechanical, compositional and molecular analyses of tissues, Kohn’s laboratory has provided insight into mechanisms of bone fragility and mechanically mediated tissue adaptation. His lab has also used principles of biomineralization to design materials that can better control biological function and enable stem cells to regenerate larger, more spatially uniform volumes of tissue in vivo.

Kohn’s work has been funded by the NIH, National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense. He has published more than 100 papers, holds five patents and has more than 80 invited presentations. He has mentored 37 graduate students and seven post docs, and hosted visiting professors in his laboratory.

In addition to being active in IADR and AADR, Kohn is on the board of directors of the Society for Biomaterials and is a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Union of Biomaterials Scientists and Engineers, In 2012, he received the IADR Isaac Schour Memorial Award, which is one of the IADR Distinguished Scientist Awards. He has been an IADR member since 1990.

What motivated you to join AADR?
My background and degrees are in bioengineering. I came to the University of Michigan in 1989, prior to the formation of the biomedical engineering department, and my appointment at the time was exclusively in the dental school. I was bringing a lot of bioengineering technology knowledge but I was fairly new to dentistry. I joined the IADR/AADR around that time and since then I have become involved in various aspects of the organization and gained a greater appreciation for oral health problems.

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
AADR is a very large organization and therefore very comprehensive, but at the same time the Scientific Research Groups and Networks make participation easy and enable me to make connections and collaborations. The size of AADR provides the comprehensive awareness of oral health while the small, friendly network of the Scientific Groups and Networks better facilitate collaborations. I’m involved in the Implantology and Mineralized Tissue IADR Scientific Groups. I’m also involved in a fair amount of student activities including Learn & Learning sessions, I’ve judged some Hatton competitions and I ran the Student Research Group at the University of Michigan. Being part of AADR has allowed me to be more engaged professionally in the oral health field.

How important has AADR been in your career?
AADR has been important in that it has enabled me to better put the work that I do in the context of oral health. At the AADR and IADR meetings there is a lot of interaction with people from the NIDCR and that is beneficial. All of those aspects have helped me get more entrenched in the AADR community, get funded as an individual, and help me to become the directed of our NIDCR-funded training grant because of my ability to better transition into oral health research.

How important do you think cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines is to the future of dental, oral and craniofacial research?
I think it’s very important to cross-collaborate with other scientific disciplines. Bringing science into teaching educational mission, as well as my personal success at my institution are both predicated on breaking down walls and collaborating with other disciplines. My own lab, our institution and our NIDCR-supported training grant have all been successful because of our ability as individuals and the dental school as a whole to interact with the medical school and our colleagues in engineering and chemistry. I think that flavor of breaking down barriers is definitely critical to success.

Why is it important for AADR members to be active in the Association?
Being engaged and serving the Association can provide you with more visibility and connections. One never knows where those connections and collaborations may lead. A new person coming into the organization might be intimidated by its size but when you become involved in the Scientific Groups and Networks you’ll find that it’s really easy to get involved and to know people. Being active in AADR is really important from a standpoint of giving back and giving service but also from a standpoint of creating visibility, especially for younger researchers and junior faculty who want to gain visibility.

What’s a message you want to give to future dental researchers?
I have several pieces of advice for younger dental researchers. Number one: I encourage students to follow their passion. I have always believed that if someone is really interested in something they will put forth the effort because it really won’t seem like effort. Number two: research operates over a longer timeframe than other activities. Therefore, one has to be persistent and keep their eye on the vision. Number three: don’t be compartmentalized. It’s important to breakdown boundaries, especially across disciplinary collaborations. My last piece of advice is to surround yourself with good people, good mentors and good collaborators. I believe that over time, all of this advice will help someone mature as a researcher and be successful.  


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