AADR Strides in Science, March 2011-December 2011

AADR Strides in Science is a monthly feature highlighting an AADR member’s accomplishments and comments on how his/her involvement with AADR has been an important part of his/her career in research. If you would like to nominate a colleague to be featured, please send his/her name to scienceadvocate@aadr.org.


December 2011

George Hajishengallis, D.D.S., Ph.D. is currently a professor & distinguished university scholar at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry. In addition, he is a principal investigator at the Oral Health and Systemic Disease Group at the university and has a joint appointment with the university’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine.

Hajishengallis obtained a D.D.S. in 1989 from the University of Athens, Greece, and a Ph.D. (cellular and molecular biology) in 1994 from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). He pursued postdoctoral work in immunology at UAB and at the State University of New York at Buffalo (which is now the University at Buffalo).

His research interests involve the investigation of host-microbe interactions in periodontitis and associated systemic diseases and the development of vaccine adjuvants for the prevention of infectious diseases. His research program is currently funded by six R01 grants (four as principal investigator and two as co-principal investigator) from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. A seventh NIH R01 grant will be activated on January 1, 2012. 

Hajishengallis is frequently invited to lecture on host immunity and periodontal disease in national and international conferences or institutions. In 2008, he was sponsored by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science for research and lectures at Japanese universities. He has published more than 90 peer-reviewed papers (in journals including the Journal of Dental Research, Cell Host & Microbe, Nature Immunology, Science Signaling and PNAS) and he has served on the Editorial Board of the IADR/AADR Journal of Dental Research. He has been a member of AADR since 1992.

How did you first get involved in dental research?
I was a dental student in Athens, Greece, and I found dentistry interesting, but I didn’t understand how it could be interesting all the time. That led me to become interested in research because I realized that it is something that is continually new. Therefore, after my graduation from the University of Athens Dental School, I decided to come to the U.S. because I thought it would be the best place to do research. I went on to earn my Ph.D. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I originally was only planning on being here for five years but 21 years later I am still in the United States, which I now consider as my home.

What are some reasons why you think other researchers should join AADR?
There are many good reasons why dental researchers should be part of AADR. AADR is a place where I can network with colleagues and AADR’s meetings are the best place for me to see some of those colleagues. AADR gives a feeling of community to dental researchers. The Association formally represents the dental research community on a national level and it acts as an advocate for funding agencies. The AADR meetings are important to me because they provide me with a platform for communicating with NIDCR program officers. It’s also a good place to expose students to present their research as part of their training and development.

What are you currently researching?
In my lab we are working in two main areas. First, we are interested in understanding how periodontal pathogens escape host immunity, while at the same time they set the stage for destructive inflammation. We are interested in identifying the underlying mechanisms because once we know the mechanisms, we can know which therapeutic compounds can be used to prevent or reverse the disease. We are doing this work right now in pre-clinical models but I think that at some point we will need to translate these findings on the clinical level to test the concept.

The other area is that we are trying to understand the changes in innate immunity that happen in old age. Recently we have identified a molecule that homeostatically regulates inflammatory cell recruitment in periodontal tissues. We can prevent periodontal disease in older mice models by treating them with this molecule and we think this is a very promising way to treat periodontitis in the elderly. In the lab, we ultimately want to combine basic and translational research because we are receiving research funds to not only satisfy our scientific curiosity but also to offer something to society. 

How important has cross-collaboration been to your research success?
The great majority of the papers that I have published are not about work that was done exclusively in my lab. We have taken the lead on most of the papers but we wouldn’t have been able to finish the studies or bring the studies to the desired level without collaborating with other experts. Those people are doing things that we don’t have the expertise to do.

What’s a piece of advice you offer to your students who are entering the dental research field?
I advise my students to love what they do, if they do that the rest will come easily. It’s easy to put in the hard work and persevere when you love what you do. I also tell my post-doc students to try to make dental research interesting to non-dental researchers. In order for dental research to be successful, we have to transcend our boundaries and convince other people that what we do is very interesting. I think that we as dental researchers have been publishing good research, and now people outside the field are very familiar with periodontal disease, its importance and links to other systemic diseases. P. gingivalis is now a bacterium that is cited across different fields. I think that is part of the success that dental research has had in the past decade. My personal motto is “today try to do something better than yesterday and tomorrow do something better than today,” and this is something that I tell my students.


November 2011

Charles Hildebolt, D.D.S., M.A., Ph.D., is a professor of radiology at Washington University School of Medicine, an adjunct professor of anthropology at Washington University and an adjunct clinical associate professor at Saint Louis University Center of Advanced Dental Education. In addition, he is biostatistical consultant for Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine.

He earned his B.S. (1966) and D.D.S. (1970) from The Ohio State University, and his M.A. (1985) and Ph.D. (1987) from Washington University. From 1970-1973, Hildebolt served as a United States Army staff dentist, captain and director of the oral surgery clinic. Prior to entering the field of research, he had a private dental practice in Dayton, Ohio from 1974-1983.

Hildebolt’s long-term research goal is to identify treatments that minimize oral bone loss. To achieve this goal, he is investigating new methods for using digital dental radiographic images to obtain oral bone mass measurements. He intends to use these methods for osteoporotic risk assessment, treatment monitoring, and research. With methods that he and his colleagues have developed, they have found that oral bone loss is associated with femoral and vertebral bone loss and that estrogen and/or vitamin D and calcium can reduce this bone loss. He and his colleagues are currently investigating the extent to which increased intakes of vitamin D and calcium improve oral health in adults. In addition to this research, Hildebolt serves as the biostatistician for two NIH-funded projects: R01 HL70037, Quantification of Lung Ventilation and Structure by 3He MR; and 1R01NS055963-01A2, Quantitative Bold Contrast in Health and Disease.

Hildebolt has been an active AADR member since 1986 and has participated on several committees. Since 2004, he has served as the secretary/treasurer of the IADR Diagnostic Systems Scientific Group. 

What motivated you to enter the research field?
In college, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I took a lot of chemistry and physics courses, which I enjoyed. I also took a lot of microbiology courses because that was my major. I was thinking about entering the field of medicine but I always enjoyed doing things with my hands. Dentistry seemed to be a close match to medicine and it would allow me to work with my hands, but I never really thought about sitting at a dental chair day in and day out. I had a dental practice for nine years and I got tired of the routine. I wanted more adventure in my life, which led me to go back to school for an M.A. and Ph.D. in physical anthropology. There was a radiologist on my dissertation committee and before I finished my Ph.D. thesis, I was offered a full-time job in radiology. My plan was to do it for a year or two—that was nearly 25 years ago. At that time there was a dental school here at Washington University and I ended up having a joint appointment at the dental school and the medical school in radiology. In 1992 they closed the dental school and radiology picked up my tenure track and I continued in the radiology field. 

How did you first get involved with AADR?
I joined AADR as a graduate student. Before I joined, I wanted to present my thesis research and one of my dissertation committee members, who was a member of AADR, suggested that I present material at the AADR Annual Meeting. That was a great suggestion. I think that being a member of AADR and participating in the meetings—particularly for students and young researchers—is outstanding. At least for me, I was able to not only meet the people who were reviewing manuscripts but also people who were editors of journals. I was also able to meet people who were reviewing my grants and in time, I started reviewing grants and I had editorial responsibilities. Some of the same people I had originally met at my first AADR meeting are now friends of mine. I see them often and we get to collaborate and exchange ideas. AADR has been good for me and it has given back more than I have put into it.

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 really important. I can’t speak for other people but I know I wouldn’t be able to complete my work without collaborating with others. I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be a jack of all trades and it just doesn’t work. I do a lot of collaborating with a colleague of mine who is in internal medicine. I’m in radiology so I have access to a lot of tools that we can use in research, and craniofacial morphology and genetics. My colleague doesn’t have access to those tools and I’m not an expert in his field, which is why it’s important for us to cross-collaborate so that we can both achieve our research goals. 

Where do you feel the research community would be without AADR’s advocacy efforts?
I think the community would be a lot smaller. In today’s political climate, these Congressional representatives have to make very hard decisions and be very selective in government funding and operations that are supported. This is why it’s important for AADR and AADR members to communicate with their Congressional representatives and educate them about the value of our research. I’m confident that without the advocacy, we wouldn’t have as much of the support for dental, oral and craniofacial research that we have today.

What are you doing to support AADR in its advocacy efforts?
I joined AADR Advocates in support of dental, oral and craniofacial research in general. I benefit from this because I do dental and craniofacial research. If we as researchers don’t become AADR Advocates and help AADR, who will advocate for us? Most of these Congressional representatives are not scientists and they won’t know what craniofacial research is and why it’s important unless we explain it to them. I use the messaging tool in the AADR Legislative Action Center to communicate with my Congressional representatives, and I customize my messages to make them more personal. I do get responses from them and some of the responses are more personal. It takes seconds to do and there’s no reason for me to not help out.


October 2011

Jerry (Jian) Feng, M.D., Ph.D., is a full professor with tenure at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry. He was trained as a physician in China, at the University of Qingdao, Medical College where he earned a B.S. in medicine and an M.S. in physiology. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. His postdoctoral fellowship training occurred at the University of Michigan and the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio.

Feng’s expertise and background include bone and tooth research in the mineralization and pulp biology fields using animal models (loss of function, gain of function and mutation), tissue engineering, and in vitro techniques. One of his major contributions is that deletions of the DMP1 gene or mutations of human DMP1 not only led to defects of bone and dentin, but also changed phosphate homeostasis by releasing more FGF23 (a growth factor targeted in kidneys) from osteocytes, suggesting that these cells serve an endocrinal function in regulating systemic phosphate homeostasis during pathological conditions.

His lab has been funded by NIH since 1996. Currently, he is funded from NIH/NIDCR and several pharmaceutical companies He has co-authored five book chapters and more than100 articles, reviews and book chapters appearing in scientific journals, including the IADR/AADR Journal of Dental Research.  His contributions in the biomedical research area have led to numerous awards and recognition including the IADR 2005 William Gies Award and the 2011 IADR Pulp Biology and Regeneration Award, which is one of the 16 IADR Distinguished Scientist Awards. Many of his trainees have been promoted to junior faculty members in U.S. Dental Schools such as the University of Michigan, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Texas A&M Health Science Center.

Feng remains a very active member of AADR and IADR, and currently serves on the JDR Editorial Board and is president of the IADR Mineralized Tissue Scientific Group. He has been a member since 1994.

How did you first get involved with AADR?
Originally I was in the bone field. I was introduced to the dental research field by Mary MacDougall (current IADR president-elect), who at the time was an associate professor at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, San Antonio. I was a postdoctoral fellow in endocrinology when she offered me a part-time faculty position at the University of Texas. Now, years later, close to 70% of my work is craniofacial research. I started from not having an interest in the field to now being heavily immersed in it.

How important has collaborating with other researchers been to your overall success as a scientist?
I would say that I started out with basically no knowledge of the field and now I have a lot of knowledge, particularly in pulp biology and mineralized tissue. I’ve also learned a lot about the periodontal disease area through interactions with AADR and IADR members. Dana Graves, an AADR member and well-known dental scientist in the periodontal disease research area, greatly helped me in this area. In addition, networking with other researchers has greatly contributed to my growth and success as a dental scientist.

What is one of your most exciting research findings?
I could name a few but one of the most exciting discoveries from my published research is the discovery of the DMP1 gene mutation in humans. This finding, reported in Nature Genetics in 2006, led to the discovery of a new disease called autosomal recessive hypophosphatemic rickets. This disease affects teeth and bone. 

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of your AADR membership?
My membership as a whole is valuable to me because it’s how I originally learned dental science. I learned from other AADR members in the field. I’ve also learned the science from attending a variety of AADR and IADR meetings and symposia. I entered the field as a trained physician but I learned about the field through my membership and colleagues. I have benefited greatly from my AADR membership.


September 2011

Laurie K. McCauley, D.D.S., Ph.D., is the William K. and Mary Anne Najjar professor and chair of the department of periodontics and oral medicine at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. She attended The Ohio State University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in education, Doctor of Dental Surgery, Master of Science in dentistry and Doctor of Philosophy in veterinary pathobiology.

McCauley is an accomplished scientist with more than 100 publications in high quality journals and nearly 20 years of funding from the National Institutes of Health. She is the recipient of the 2011 IADR Basic Research in Biologic Mineralization Award. As one of the 16 IADR Distinguished Scientist Awards, it is one of the highest honors bestowed by IADR.

Her research centers on the roles of parathyroid hormones (PTH) where she has provided valuable contributions at all levels from the molecular biologic aspects to the impact in human patients. Her research has provided new knowledge about PTH and PTH-related protein (PTHrP) in the fields of tooth development and eruption, therapeutic applications for the treatment of osteoporosis, and the pathobiology of metastatic bone disease.

Some examples of her seminal contributions include early and frequently cited work of receptors for PTH on T-lymphocytes, and the impact of the athymic state on the skeleton. This work formed some of the early basis for what is now known as the exciting area of ‘Osteoimmunology'.

McCauley joined AADR in 1985. As an avid AADR member, she has served on several IADR/AADR committees and sections, including serving as the 2003-04 president of the IADR Mineralized Tissues Section. Currently she serves on the AADR Governmental Affairs Committee.

What prompted you to pursue a career in research?
I started doing research as a graduate student because I was interested in pursuing a career in academia. I found that I enjoyed doing research tremendously and wanted to further develop that aspect of my career.

How did you first get involved in AADR?
I joined AADR as a graduate student. Being part of AADR was really the best venue for me to communicate the science that I was working on with colleagues. I was interested in attending the meetings and sharing my research and getting feedback from other members and colleagues.

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
The biggest value of being part of AADR has been attending and presenting at the AADR Annual Meetings, and being able to network with people who have similar research interests. The collegiality of other scientists in the dental research field has been fantastic. I also think that AADR is really instrumental in advocacy for dental research.

What role has cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines played in the success of your research career?
I have a very strong interdisciplinary persona—so to speak—because my research really has applications beyond dentistry in the fields of osteoporosis and skeletal metastasis. By necessity, I interact with people who are in those fields, as well as people in dentistry. Doing so provides me with a nice dimension across those fields.

What is one of the most meaningful moments of your career?
One of the most meaningful things in my career has been the ability to move an investigative focus from the basic cellular and molecular level to the translational level, and ultimately to a human clinical trial. This is truly a scientist’s dream, and something that takes a long time to do but was particularly rewarding. That this also centered on career development for multiple students who have gone on to establish their own successful programs was an added bonus.

What do you tell your students to get them excited about pursuing careers in research?
I inform them that pursuing a career that centers on research or generating new knowledge is extremely rewarding in that there’s always something new to discover. It’s really invigorating and continually renewing. Research is a fantastic career for someone who enjoys discovering new things and experiencing change.


August 2011

Jeremy J. Mao, Ph.D., D.D.S., is professor, dental medicine and biomedical engineering; and Edward V. Zegarelli Endowed Chair at Columbia University. Prior to joining Columbia University he was an associate professor with tenure at the University of Illinois at Chicago (2000-2006) and an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh (1996-2000).

He earned his D.D.S. in dental medicine from Wuhan University, China (1983), an oral surgery certificate from Zhengzhou University, China (1986), a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary engineering from the University of Alberta, Canada 1992) and a D.D.S. from the University of Illinois at Chicago (2001).

Mao’s laboratory focuses on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Another area of focus is the understanding of nanoscale structures such as cell membrane and cytoskeleton in cell function. A further area of focus is the understanding of bone and cartilage development in health and diseases such as congenital anomalies and arthritis.

Recently, Mao’s laboratory pioneered a new technique that can orchestrate the body's stem cells to migrate to 3D scaffold that is infused with growth factor. This technique can yield an anatomically correct tooth in as soon as nine weeks once implanted in the mouth.

His involvement in tissue engineering and stem cells led him, along with three other colleagues, to co-organize the 2011 First International Conference on Dental and Craniofacial Stem Cells. Mao has been a member of AADR since 1997, and has served on the JDREditorial Board twice: 2002-2005 and 2007-2010. His research has been published in several journals, including the JDR.

How did you first get involved in AADR?
I joined AADR as a graduate student because I needed a community for research. I also wanted to learn from the scientists whose work I read and admired. After joining, I progressed in my career and became a professor and mentor. Working in those capacities, I’m able to share my knowledge and pass information on to junior investigators.

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
One of the most valuable benefits of my membership is being part of the dental and craniofacial research community. Being a member gives me the opportunity to share my research findings with other members and I’m also able to learn about their research. My membership also allows me to give back to society by mentoring the young scientists. I’m able to help them understand the obligatory tasks they need to complete to be successful scientists. I also appreciate the advocacy element that AADR offers by providing opportunities to advocate for dental and craniofacial research.

How important has AADR been in your career?
In general, AADR has been a positive move for my career because the Association provides a platform for the exchange of information and for colleagues to get together. Without AADR, there would be a void for scientists in dental and craniofacial research.

How important do you think cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines is to the future of dental, oral and craniofacial research?
Cross-collaboration is vital to my research. To make progress, you have to collaborate with others in the field. I tell my students that we need to be friends with our colleagues because we need to be able to collaborate with others to complete our research.


July 2011

Van P. Thompson, D.D.S., Ph.D., is professor and chair of biomaterials and biomimetics at New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry.  He earned his B.S. in biology/chemistry and Ph.D. in biology/biophysics from Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.; and his D.D.S. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Known for his work on adhesion and bonded bridges at the University of Maryland, he has published numerous articles in various scientific journals, including the IADR/AADR Journal of Dental Research, and he has presented his research on dental biomaterials at AADR and IADR meetings, in addition to other scientific meetings.   

His current research areas include occlusal caries, all-ceramic crown fatigue and fracture, modification of dentin for bonding, engineering tissue response via scaffold architecture and practice-based research (PEARL Network).

In addition to being a professor and chair at NYU, he serves on the FDA Panel on Dental Devices and the editorial board of the Journal of Adhesive Dentistry.

He has been a member of AADR since 1967.

What motivated you to enter the field of dental research?
I was a physics major who was then in a motorcycle accident and spent a great deal of time in the hospital. That is when I became interested in replacements for bone and the only way I could get involved in something like that was to switch to biology and then take the other physical science courses. Along the way I was introduced to the dental end of things and that’s when I realized that a great deal of what is known about various implant materials and replacement for bones comes out of dental research.

How were you introduced to AADR?
I was involved in a program with Lawrence Katz, and that was funded by NIDCR ostensibly to do research and get those of us who were training in the physical sciences to think about becoming involved in dental research. As part of that program, the idea was to take some of your work and present it at an AADR meeting. That introduced me to the opportunities for a great deal of research that could be done in dentistry, using the background as a physical scientist.

What are you currently researching?
I have my fingers in a lot of pots because I’m chair of biomaterials and biomimetics at NYU. We’re doing a lot with bone scaffold work—with the calcium phosphates for those scaffolds—and at the same time we’re looking at plasma modifications of surfaces for bonding to dentin and for getting more rapid bone integration on implant materials. However, the majority of my funding is coming out of practice-based research. I earned my dental degree at the University of Maryland after I was teaching there, and that has gotten me into the clinical end of things along the way. We have had the opportunity, with a team, to be one of the groups of successful and original practice-based research group networks to receive grant funding.

What advice do you offer your students to prepare them for their respective careers?
I think a lot of it is for them to understand that the work is quite collaborative. We try to introduce them to many different people with whom they can collaborate and be willing to share their interests and desires in order to bring things together. Along the way the funding has changed so that it’s much less the individual scientist and much more what can be done as a team to move things forward. I think this is what science has had to learn from the engineering model, where for years engineers have had to work as teams—they are taught that way. What we try to do in the graduate program here is to get people a little more interested in that team approach. The other aspect is for students to know that at times the research can be quite laborious and quite boring, but there are those moments when things come together that make it worthwhile. They have to understand that day-to-day in the laboratory can be tedious but it’s rewarding.

What is the most valuable aspect of your AADR membership?
It is the opportunity to interact with people on many different aspects of the unique oral environment. We have many challenges there, in terms of whether it be types of tissues involved, bacterial load, temperature variation or interfaces. Everyone seems to bring some unique science to it. AADR is fundamental because it does provide you with a forum where you can discuss and promote the various research agendas and see what’s happening. I think it’s very nice for cross-fertilization of ideas and I know of no other venue that brings together such a diverse group.

June 2011

Donald White, Ph.D., is a research fellow and a member of the prestigious Victor Mills Society at The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G). He leads oral care chemotherapeutics research in the Advanced Technology and Innovation Department at the Mason Business Center in Mason, Ohio.   

White received his B.S. in chemistry and Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the State University of New York at Buffalo—now the University at Buffalo. Since joining P&G in 1982, White’s research has focused on translational oral biology including processes associated with dental caries, microbial plaque formation and virulence, association of biofilm pathogenicity with hard tissue and gingival disease, dental calculus and extrinsic stain deposition mechanisms and chemistries of tooth whitening peroxides with oral tissues. He has played key roles in the development and commercialization of major initiatives for P&G over three decades, including most recently the development of Crest® Pro Health™. 

In addition to development and commercialization of Crest® products—resulting in more than 30 global patents—White has been active professionally, authoring more than 110 peer reviewed publications and 275 meeting abstract presentations. He has reviewed for more than 25 journals and previously served as a member-at-large on the Board of Directors of the American Association for Dental Research, where he has been a member since 1985. 

What motivated you to enter the scientific research field?
I became interested in science in high school. I had a really good science teacher who got me interested in the subject and from there I knew I wanted to pursue it. I was good at science at the high school level and I continued it in college. At the university, I had a couple professors who suggested that a research career would be exciting for me and luckily they were right. At the college level, that’s what prompted me to get interested and do post-graduate work for an advanced degree. I had some mentors along the way who really helped me.

Did some of those mentors tell you about AADR and encourage you to join?
Interestingly enough, the person I had gotten my Ph.D. with was Professor George Nancollas, at University at Buffalo, he was a consultant with Procter & Gamble and he was also a long-term member of AADR. He had a strong dental research program that was funded through the NIDCR, but I wasn’t in the dental research part of his laboratory—I was in a different area, working on kidney stones. So then, Procter & Gamble interviewed me in their dental and bone divisions, and I chose to take the job in the dental area. I was in the research group at Buffalo and I heard all this discussion about AADR and I heard those discussions at Procter & Gamble because everyone there at the company was a member. When I joined Procter & Gamble, I immediately signed up to become an AADR member.

What are you currently researching?
I’m basically involved in development of chemotherapeutics for various oral care conditions—if it’s going in a toothpaste or rinse and it’s chemotherapeutically derived—we are involved in development or testing our focus. We’re always looking at new ways to improve the efficacy of the oral products that patients and consumers use. One of the most interesting things we’re doing is exploring the ways in which oral conditions manifest themselves over time and the chronic nature of the diseases. Along with other AADR researchers we are also learning more and more each day about how daily oral hygiene can affect systemic health of populations. Very exciting time for AADR researchers associated with preventive hygiene and chemotherapeutics.

How important has AADR been to your career?
AADR has been tremendously important to my career. The network that AADR provides is second to none in terms of having a place to go where I know the expertise is going to be and I know the standards of the organization are such that the people who are members are quite knowledgeable and are investigating the things that need to be studied. It has been a tremendous source of guidance for me. Lots of people have mentored me along the way, and taught me many things and connected lots of dots for me. The organization is a treasure trove of expertise and experience.

How important do you think cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines is to the future of dental, oral and craniofacial research?
It’s really essential. Today’s problems cannot be solved without it. Today’s problems demand solutions that require the contributions from different fields and different ideas coming together. I think all of the next generation of inventions and advancements will come from cross-collaboration.

How does it feel to be part of the science that is helping to improve people’s lives?
I’m sure this is true of all scientific endeavors, but in our discipline it’s interesting to think of the impact that we can have on people’s lives. In a recent retirement ceremony for a colleague who worked in oral care, I went back and calculated the cavity rates today, and noticed that the advancements we made in the 80’s provided such an improvement in reducing dental cavities—in this particular case. Then I noted that the companies who created the technologies basically followed each other and within 5-10 years they put in place the same types of technologies because that’s how the marketplace works. I did the calculations and tried to determine how much better off populations were from our collective efforts. When I did the calculation, I couldn’t believe it because it was hundreds of millions of cavities. Clearly, one of the nicest things about our field of research is that although commercial enterprises and basic researchers can go home at night and say we really made a difference to our neighbors, we really made a difference in the world. Someone didn’t have to get a tooth filling, someone didn’t lose a tooth, someone kept their teeth their entire life, someone was healthy for longer than they would have been. To make a difference like that is really what makes a scientific career really rewarding.


May 2011

Jessica Y. Lee, D.D.S, M.P.H., Ph.D.,  is an associate professor and currently on the faculty of both the Departments of Pediatric Dentistry in the School of Dentistry and Health Policy and Management in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also serves as the director of the School of Dentistry’s Health Services Research Program.

Lee received her M.P.H. and D.D.S. degrees from Columbia University and her Certificate in Pediatric Dentistry and Ph.D. in Health Policy and Management from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she was also an NIDCR National Research Service Award recipient and Post-doc fellow at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. She is a board certified pediatric dentist and an active member of the medical staff at UNC Hospitals and practices in the Dental Faculty Practice in the School of Dentistry.

Over the past several years, Lee has strived toward striking a clinical and scientific balance that is apparent in her research. In terms of investigator-initiated research, she has a unique perspective as a pediatric dentist/health services researcher. This dual training led her group to examine the relationship of public health programs and evaluate their effectiveness in increasing access to dental care for infants and children. Her major research interests include health literacy and health disparities, outcome assessment, instrument development and measurement and costs effectiveness investigations in young children.

She has more than 100 peer reviewed manuscripts and abstracts, and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Dental Research, Journal of Public Health Dentistry and Dental Traumatology. She is involved in teaching, clinical practice and research and maintains several research grants from HRSA, NIH and AHRQ.  She has been an active AADR member since 1998.

Lee is the recipient of numerous teaching and research awards including the 2008 American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Jerome Miller “For the Kids” Award. In 2010, Lee received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) from President Barack Obama. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

What motivated you to enter the field of research and science?
I think there’s an appeal for those of us who are always curious. I like the creative side of research and I think it’s very important to generate new thoughts and ideas, and make contributions to move the profession forward. I think that if someone has any sense of curiosity, they can foster it through a research career because you spend your life answering questions.

What are some of the questions you have asked that you have been able to answer through your research career?
My research is health literacy and health disparities. The UNC Dental School Carolina Oral Health Literacy Project has spent the last several years trying to disentangle the role of health literacy and how to improve doctor-patient communications so that we can relay messages as providers to our patient population so they can adopt them. There is a disconnect because we assume they know certain things. Then we get frustrated because patients or caregivers haven’t adopted a behavior that we felt would be beneficial to their oral health, but maybe there was a communication gap in what we think we’re saying and what they understand. There’s a lot of evidence that there is a communication gap that has been shown in medicine and we’ve been able to show it in oral health, and there’s a significant communication gap between providers and the patient population. To reduce that gap, we feel as though we can increase the understanding of certain behaviors and understanding of adoptions of behaviors that will improve oral health—in young children in my case because that’s who we examine.

Last year you received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Describe the experience of visiting the White House, meeting the President and receiving the award.
There were a lot of emotions that took place. I was among these scientists and engineers that were working for the Department of Defense and NASA, and doing these great things to move our country forward in the scientific arena. I was the only dental person in the room and I thought that it was great that dentistry was on the radar screen with all of those other areas of research that are needed to move our country forward. I just thought it was a great moment because somewhere in the nomination process, someone said that oral health is as important as all these other areas that are critically important to the viability of our nation. As a researcher, it was nice to be recognized at that level. It was overwhelming and very humbling. There were some great people in the room and I was just honored to be among them. The President is an incredibly warm person who understands science and research, and he’s committed to it. That was very clear.

What role has cross collaboration played in your career?
I think about the people involved in the UNC Dental School Carolina Oral Health Literacy Project and we have psychologists, sociologists and economists, and we need them in order to answer the big questions. I bring the oral health expertise to the table but I need the other experts to answer these other questions and do it in the most rigorous fashion. I have to go beyond those in dentistry and I want those experts to be excited about answering an oral health question. It’s absolutely critical to cross collaborate because we cannot work in a vacuum. We have to be able to look beyond the walls our dental school to be able to move our research forward and advance oral health issues within dentistry. I want the experts in other fields to go back to their respective departments and discuss oral health. I love it when I’m in a room and everyone is talking about oral health issues because they understand it and they can also become advocates for oral health research.

How important has AADR been in your career?
For me, AADR was the critical platform by which I launched my career. It’s exciting to put the science out there and present at the meetings, and form collaborators as a result. It’s reenergizing and AADR has helped me develop these networks in my area of research. I think that the best benefit AADR provides is being able to get people with similar research interests together for future collaborations.

April 2011

Mina Mina, D.M.D., M.S.D., Ph.D., is a professor and chair of the Division of Pediatric Dentistry that is a part of the Department of Craniofacial Sciences. There, she also serves as the director of the Skeletal, Craniofacial and Oral Biology Graduate Program. She began her tenure at the University of Connecticut in 1989 as an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry.

Mina holds a D.M.D. from National University of Iran (1978), an M.S.D. from Case Western Reserve University (1983) and a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut Health Center (1990). As an active member of AADR and IADR, Mina has served on several committees, most recently serving as chair of the subcommittee for the 2010 Craniofacial Biology Research Award, and on the 2010 IADR Distinguished Scientist Award Committee.

Her research program focuses on craniofacial biology with an emphasis on signaling pathways that control the growth, patterning and morphogenesis of the lower jaw and developing teeth. In October, Mina received a $1.8 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This grant will fund expansion of the post-doctoral training in the Pediatric Dentistry for five years.

In addition to being the principal investigator of the HRSA grant, Mina is the principal investigator of R01-DE16689: Analysis of GFP Transgenes in Odontoblast Differentiation. The overall goals of this research are to use promoter-green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter transgenic mice as a novel experimental model to unravel the molecular mechanisms regulating the progression of neural crest-derived mesenchymal progenitor cells into odontoblasts.

Mina has received many awards for her research, including the 2006 IADR Distinguished Scientist Award for Craniofacial Biology Research. She has been an AADR/IADR member since 1984.

What prompted you to join AADR?
My mentor and my surroundings introduced AADR to me. I was doing my Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut and AADR was a very visible organization. When I did my rotation, it was my Ph.D. advisor Dr. Edward Kollar (also a member of AADR) who encouraged me to submit my paper to AADR. At the time I didn’t know very much about the Association but when I attended the meeting that first time, I loved it and I have been an active member since then.

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of your AADR membership?
Attending the AADR meetings is a valuable part of my membership and I hear a broad spectrum of oral and craniofacial research there. I don’t know of any other place where I can go and get such a breadth of quality presentations over many issues that are of interest to people in health professions. I enjoy going to the meetings and reuniting with friends and past classmates, and learning what everyone is researching. The meetings are always great for establishing collaborations.

Another aspect of AADR that I love is the encouragement the Association gives to students. There is no place better than AADR for students who are engaged in dental research to get more excited and give them more of a flavor of how their community is going to look. They get the opportunity to present their work at meetings and it’s very rewarding to them. The organization really nourishes newcomers and it’s a great organization for students.

How important do you think cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines is to your research?
I don’t think anyone can successfully do research without collaborating with others—I certainly wouldn’t have been able to stay active. The science has become very specialized and there are subcategories, and everybody has their own expertise. I try to collaborate with the people who have tools that will benefit the progress of my research.

In October you received a $1.8 million HRSA grant. How is the department currently utilizing that grant?
We responded to that grant announcement because it addressed increasing the workforce and providing access to care for patients who are not able to go to a pediatric dentist. We wrote the grant about increasing our residency program so that we can accept more residents. By increasing the number of residents we are hoping that we are going to increase the workforce of qualified pediatric dentists and better serve the community. Also, the residents we will bring in will work in community health centers and will become more engaged in serving the underserved.

You mentioned that AADR is a great association for students and newcomers to the field. What advice do you give to your students to encourage them to become active members?
I always encourage my students to attend the meetings and present their research, get feedback, learn from their colleagues and start building a network for themselves because that’s where they will find other people with common interests. Some of my dental and Ph.D. students get really tired over a period of time in the lab. When they return from the meetings, they are always energetic, full of ideas, and they have received positive feedback about their research. They realize that they are contributing value to the field.


March 2011

Timothy A. DeRouen, Ph.D., is Executive Associate Dean for Research and Academic Affairs in the School of Dentistry at the University of Washington. He holds faculty appointments as Professor in the Departments of Dental Public Health Sciences and Biostatistics. He has a B.S in Statistics from McNeese State University, and both an M.S. and Ph.D. in Statistics from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University.

DeRouen’s primary research interests are methods for correlated data and applications in clinical dental research. To help fulfill his research interests, he has served as Principal Investigator on several major research projects, including the Comprehensive Center for Oral Health Research, and the Casa Pia Study of the Health Effects of Dental Amalgam in Children. He currently serves as co-Director of Northwest PRECEDENT, the NIDCR-funded practice based research network of 350 dentists in the Pacific Northwest, and of several research training programs, including the Summer Institute in Clinical Dental Research Methods. Over the past 19 years, the institute has provided training to more than 425 dental faculty from 30 states and 40 foreign countries.

He has been a member of AADR since 1988 and has served on several NIDCR committees.

How did you enter the field of biostatistics and oral health research?
I entered the field with the idea of helping oral health research, particularly clinical dental research, develop a stronger scientific basis by encouraging the use of appropriate scientific design and statistical methodology. I got involved in oral health research as a biostatistician by trying to see how statistical methodology could be used to make oral health research more reliable. It was clear to me that a lot of the clinical scientists working in oral health didn’t have strong clinical research training. Even though they had strong clinical training, they didn’t have adequate exposure to clinical research methodology needed to make their clinical research of the highest quality. I started offering training programs that were aimed at getting clinicians and dental researchers to have  better clinical methodology training. As I moved along in that direction  I became involved in several research projects, including a major clinical trial on the health affects of dental amalgam in children. More recently I have become involved in practice-based research, setting up infrastructures to encourage clinical research that is performed in clinical practices.  In that role,  I head up one of the three NIDCR-funded dental PBRNs.

How did you first get involved in AADR?
In the earlier part of my career I worked in biomedical research at the University of Washington in other areas, including public health and medicine. In the mid 1980’s, the dean at the School of Dentistry at the University of Washington was looking for a biostatistician to enhance the research activity of the School and I began collaborating with some of the dental faculty, working in  dental research. My involvement in AADR came about as a result of presentations of some of my research at the AADR meetings.

What are some of your research interests and goals?
In the earlier part of my career I found that there were some interesting statistical issues presented in dental research that made some of the problems a lot more complex than what people originally thought. I was initially involved in research in periodontal disease.. Studies in periodontal disease involved taking multiple observations around multiple teeth in the mouth. In attempting to analyze the data the problem was that most of the statistical methods available assumed that observations were independent of each other, and it was clear that site/teeth in the same mouth were not likely to be independent of each other. That created some statistical problems about how to analyze the data, since it meant either using data on individual sites/teeth and employing methods that assumed independence (which was not likely to be true), or collapsing the data to summary measures for a person, which meant losing a lot of information collected at the tooth/site level. From a purely statistical point of view, that  dilemma was of interest, and fortunately the statistical community became interested in developing new methods for correlated data which we were able to employ. Then, as I became more aware of the science behind the issues , I became more interested in  the oral science problems in addition to the purely statistical problems.

How important has cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines been to the success of your career?
That’s basically where I come in. I am part of interdisciplinary collaboration. When we do different research projects, it requires that we bring in people from other disciplines to work on the project. For example, with the clinical trial that we did on dental amalgam in children, it was necessary to have a multi-disciplinary team. This team included biostatisticians, epidemiologists, dentists, urologists, toxicologists,  psychologists, physiologists, and neurologists  to design and carry out the study to address this problem. That’s the nature of most of the research I do because as a biostatistician I was included as part of  interdisciplinary teams, and with more experience I ended up heading interdisciplinary teams. The AADR meetings have been helpful in this arena since my attendance at AADR meetings has provided me with the opportunity to interact with people from other disciplines who work in dental research as well.



In this section

Annual Report

Learn More »