AADR Strides in Science Oct. 2009 - May. 2010
Pamela Crotty Yelick, Ph.D., is a professor at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, where she is the director of the Division of Craniofacial and Molecular Genetics in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology. Yelick holds adjunct appointments in the Departments of Bioengineering, Genetics, and Molecular and Cell Biology.
After earning a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Tufts University in 1989, Yelick pursued postdoctoral training at the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute and worked as a research associate at Harvard University. She continues to lecture at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, the Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine, and the Department of Continuing Education at Harvard Medical School, where she lectures on tissue engineering.
Her major research interests are molecular genetic analyses of craniofacial cartilage, bone, and tooth development and regeneration. Her research focuses on manipulating mammalian postnatal dental stem cells for whole tooth tissue engineering applications, and the zebrafish, Danio rerio, as a model for gene discovery and function in craniofacial and tooth development and regeneration.
Yelick and her lab have identified four zebrafish receptor genes, including the novel type I receptor activin-like kinase 8 (alk8). Studies of alk8 contributed to the identification of the zebrafish alk8 mutant, lost-a-fin (laf/alk8), which the Yelick lab is using for in vivo analyses of alk8 function.
She has received grant support from multiple funding agencies including RO3, R21, R41 and RO1 support from NIH/NIDCR, and Proof of Principle, and Application Development Awards from the Center for Innovative Medicine and Innovative Technologies (CIMIT), which is a nonprofit consortium of Boston teaching hospitals and engineering schools.
At the last year’s 2nd AADR Fall Focused Symposium: Tissue Engineering of Craniofacial & Oral Tissues, Yelick shared cutting-edge research with attendees in a presentation titled “New Strategies for Dental Tissue Engineering.”
Joined AADR in 1996.
1979 B.A. Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
1989 Ph.D. Tufts University, Boston, Mass., Molecular Biology
What led you to pursue your career in research?
I was trained as a molecular developmental biologist. When I graduated from my Ph.D. program I was looking for a postdoc in a related field. I trained as a research associate with Wally Gilbert at the Harvard Biological Laboratories. Many people in his group were working with zebrafish as a model for human development, and that is where I learned the zebrafish system. I was looking for an assistant professorship and I was hired at The Forsyth Institute. There, I introduced the zebrafish as model for craniofacial and tooth development and regeneration. That is what led me to where I am today.
Also influential to my career was a meeting that I had in 1999 with Jay Vacanti, Massachusetts General Hospital’s chief of pediatric surgery. He came to Forsyth to give a talk about tissue engineering and how it is the wave of the future. He and Bob Langer at MIT really kick started the field of Tissue Engineering out of a need for alternative organ transplant tissues. I spent quite a bit of time talking to him about whether this could be applied to tooth as well, and he was very encouraging.
What are some of the discoveries you’re making through your research?
What’s interesting is that we have worked with a variety of cell types in my laboratory. Since I moved to Tufts, we have been working exclusively—as much as possible—with human dental cells. It is clear to my lab and others working in the field that human cells behave differently than animal cells. In relevant studies, it’s really important to work with human tissues as much as possible. Animal models are important but I think it’s also important to simultaneously carry human cell characterizations to better understand their characteristics and behaviors because they are really quite unique from animal model systems. Some other interesting things we have discovered in tissue engineering arena are that there are a lot of very interesting scaffold materials that may prove to be helpful for us in dental tissue engineering. A major stumbling block is being able to fabricate bioengineered dental tissue of specified size and shape. We would ultimately want to be able to regenerate a tooth to replace the tooth that has been lost. To do that, we will have to have a very good handle on how to precisely form bioengineered dental tissues, which we are not able to do right now. However, there are some new hydrogel and nanofabricated materials that seem to be very promising for these approaches.
In addition to those discoveries, you are credited for the discovery of type I receptor activin-like kinase 8. How did you make this discovery?
When I was starting my lab at Forsyth, I was trying to determine what kind of project would be feasible for me just starting my own laboratory. I also wanted to attract students and grow the lab. I decided to clone type I and II TGF- family member receptors in the zebrafish. At the time they had not been cloned or characterized in zebrafish but they had been characterized and cloned in other animal model systems, and were found to be important in craniofacial and tooth development. I initiated a degenerate RT-PCR screen to pull out these genes in the zebrafish and ended up with a collection of clones, one of which was alk8 (activin-like kinase 8), after the other seven Alk receptors that had already been identified.
How did you react to the discovery of alk8?
Identifying a new gene is fun, but you don’t really know what it does or its important uses. Therefore, you have to see where it’s expressed and what happens when it’s miss expressed. The fun part began when we performed the functional studies, by introducing dominant negative and activating mutations into the wild-type (normal) gene, and then over expressed them in the zebrafish. We saw effects on the craniofacial and tooth structures and that’s when it started to get exciting. We also mapped the gene to a chromosomal location in the zebrafish, and published that result, but we didn’t have a mutant. We were looking for a mutant when I noticed that the dominant negative receptor—when it expressed in the zebrafish—created a phenotype that resembled a previously published phenotype in a mutant called lost-a-fin (laf). I called the principal investigator that had published the study of that mutant and told her that I was curious about it because it looked like the alk8 loss of function mutation. The principal investigator said that they had mapped the lost-a-fin mutation to a location close to the alk8 gene, and making it a strong candidate for their mutation. Sure enough, they confirmed that alk8 was the gene mutated in the laf mutant. That was very fun because we then we had mutants we could actually work with, we knew that alk8 was expressed in developing teeth, and the laf mutants exhibited defects in tooth development. That experience brought around everything full circle.
You’re passion for research has been instrumental to your career. What advice do you offer to your students to help kick start their respective careers in research?
I really do feel privileged to be at Tufts, doing the work that I am doing, and there are so many aspects of the research we are doing that have yet to be discovered and studied. When people come into the lab, I give them a general overview of the different projects we’re working on and the projects for which we are currently funded. I tell them that even within those projects, there’s room for individualistic types of analyses. I think that finding something you’re passionate about is the most important thing, because if you don’t have a really compelling project you’re working on, or something that stimulates you to constantly be thinking about, it’s just not going to be worth you’re time and energy. I try to direct their passion and interests to something that really excites them.
Timothy Bromage, M.A., Ph.D., is a professor of biomaterials and biomimetics, and of basic science and craniofacial biology, at the New York University College of Dentistry (NYUCD). In addition, he is Honorary Professor of La Salle University, Madrid, Spain, where, together with Alejandro Perez-Ochoa, he is co-founder of
the Foundation for Human Health and Evolution.
Bromage directs the Hard Tissue Research Unit (HTRU) at NYUCD, which is a mineralized tissue preparation and imaging technology development laboratory of the Department of Biomaterials and Biomimetics. Mineralized tissue biology with emphasis on its translation to environmental and evolutionary studies are key to many of Bromage's HTRU pursuits, which include microanatomical correlates of bone biomechanics, skeletal adaptation to microgravity, enamel and bone growth rate variability in respect to environmental variation and perturbations, and skeletal disease research.
In experimental biology approaches to human evolution research, Bromage discovered a new biological clock, or long-period biological rhythm, controlling bone and body size and mammalian life history. He discovered the new rhythm while observing incremental growth lines in tooth enamel, which appear much like the annual rings on a tree. He also observed a related pattern of incremental growth in skeletal bone tissue—the first time such an incremental rhythm has ever been observed in bone. The findings suggest that the same biological rhythm that controls incremental tooth and bone growth also affects bone and body size and many metabolic processes, including long-period variation in heart and respiration rates.
In March 2010, it was announced that Bromage was chosen to receive the 2010 Max Planck Research Award for his accomplishments in the human evolutionary sciences in general and specifically for his recent discovery of a long-period biological rhythm. The prize, widely considered the "Nobel Prize for Life Science," is the highest international honor bestowed in the natural sciences and is accompanied by a stipend of just over $1 million. Bromage will use the stipend to expand his research over the coming year into the morphological and physiological manifestations of the long-period biological rhythm. He will work closely with Friedemann Schrenk of the Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt, Germany.
Joined AADR in 2007.
1978 B.A. California State University at Sonoma, Anthropology,
1980 M.A. University of Toronto, Biological Anthropology
1986 Ph.D. University of Toronto, Biological Anthropology
How did you first get involved with AADR?
My current position provides something of a second life for me because I was not originally a member of the faculty of dentistry at NYU. Before this I worked for 15 years in an anthropology department. Upon coming to the dental school in 2004, it took me a little while to find my legs and to reestablish my research, but rapidly I discovered that I had landed into a community that was keenly interested in what I do. To feel appreciated and understood, and to be made to feel that what I do is important is a highly motivating influence. The natural outcome of my initial experiences is that I would eventually join the societies to which my colleagues belong, chief among them the AADR and IADR, and that I would participate in their scientific meetings.
Coming from anthropology, how was the transition into dental research?
The transition was marked by whirlwinds of differences between the students and research circulating around me. With respect to the students, for the first time I was teaching and mentoring in my field of expertise, hard tissue biology. The students had a special affinity for and were interested in bone and tooth biology relevant to dentistry; this is not something I had taught before. At NYUCD they are always asking questions and want to know more about how I apply hard tissue biology to various research problems. It’s the same with the research, except that while I continue to do all that I had done previously in my anthropology career, I was now exposed to research problems and interests that I never would have anticipated before. For instance, I participate in implant dentistry, orthodontic and dental disease research, for which I have skills to perform but was not previously exposed to. The transition has meant broadening my horizon into a dental research career which I simply would not have encountered otherwise.
For you, what does winning the 2010 Max Planck Research Award represent?
This award is a prize that acknowledges my explorations into research territories that are considered to have great value to the scientific community. The prize is largely given on the basis of one’s research history and its contribution to science and it’s extremely gratifying to know that my past work is being recognized. Winning the prize also means that I can initiate and bolster research leading to new discoveries in hard tissue biology that, quite honestly, I could probably not fund through traditional agencies; this freedom to pursue certain lines of research is immensely gratifying. Winning the prize also represents the support I have received from NYUCD, because I’m quite certain that in my former position I would not have had the same opportunities to develop the HTRU nor accomplish all that I have.
What are you currently researching?
There is one main area, which will come to define my research Max Planck prize goals, which will be to further our understanding of biological rhythms in hard tissues. In part, the prize was given for recent discoveries made on long-period rhythms, which we believe have enormous potential for understanding aspects of why humans are the way they are; for instance, their biological variability and also how we have evolved that variability. To this end we have developed a bone and tooth biology program that we will implement as a result of the prize. To do this we need an army of researchers for heralding our initiatives to the global research community.
How do you plan to bring this information to the global research community?
I have considered the most effective way of accomplishing my goal, and the answer is clear. The plan is to assist in the funding of the dissertation research of up to 30 doctoral students over five years and also to provide them with travel money to attend scientific conferences—any student at any university in the world. It’s clear to me that this is how we move a field forward—by getting students involved in this research and helping to fund their dissertation research projects. Having students come into the mix is critical. In five years time they will be graduating, getting jobs, and helping to move hard tissue biology into the mainstream of human evolution research specifically and help to champion my overall desire to see integrative research overcome traditional academic disciplinary boundaries.
Tara Aghaloo is an associate professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry. She began working at UCLA in 2000, after receiving her M.D. from the University.
Aghaloo is a Principal Investigator (PI) in a Multi-Principal Investigator grant that evaluates the pathophysiology of bisphosphonate related osteonecrosis of the jaws. She is also a PI of two additional grants: one that examines the healing of calvarial defects after grafting with Nell-1, BMP-2, and the combination; and another that examines the osteoinductive potential of two growth factors, rhBMP-2 and rhPDGF.
Active in both IADR and AADR, she has served on several IADR/AADR committees and groups, and in 2007 she served as president of the IADR Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Research Group. Aghaloo has been recognized for her research and work in the community and holds many honors, including the Leo D. Fields Volunteer of the Year Award. In addition, she has received research fellowships to help further her career in research and oral surgery.
Joined AADR in 2001.
1994 B.A. University of Missouri, Kansas City,
1994 D.D.S University of Missouri, Kansas City,
1999 M.D. University of California, Los Angeles,
2000 Certificate University of California, Los Angeles,
2007 Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles,
Why did you choose to become a researcher and oral surgeon?
I got into research pretty late in my training; I wanted to be a dentist for a long as I can remember. When I got into dental school, oral surgery was the thing that looked like it made the most noticeable and largest impact to the patients, from what I had seen. The fact that you can change someone’s life and outlook through major reconstruction, or removal of benign or malignant tumors, or other jaw surgery really appealed to me. When I found that there were many unanswered questions in clinical surgical practice, I began to seek answers in the laboratory. Once I started research during my surgery residency, I was hooked. It was at that time that I knew I wanted a career in academics as a clinician scientist.
How have you been able to impact your patients’ lives through oral surgery?
Many times in doing cleft lip and palate surgery, I find that I can make a pretty large impact. Other times, when someone has a large cyst or tumor and they are afraid that the surgery is going to leave them extremely disfigured, by doing reconstruction either immediately at the time of a receptive type of surgery or in a more delayed fashion, I can get the patient back to complete rehabilitation, and even to the point where it seems that most people wouldn’t even know that anything was done. Often, the patient can be right back to where he or she started before all of this occurred.
What are you currently researching?
My main research focus is bone healing and regeneration, and remodeling. To date, I have mostly studied how to make bone heal better and regenerate faster in defects, mostly in translational models. More recently I have been working on Bisphosphonate-Related Osteonecrosis of the Jaw (BRONJ). I have many patients who have BRONJ and have really devastating effects from the complications of their medications. We have an animal model to study BRONJ, which is the basis for the recent R01 grant. We have been working on trying to determine the pathophysiology of the disease, and trying to find ways to improve it or treat it in the animal model, and then hopefully, our patients. Through this research, we are learning that bisphosphonate inhibition of osteoclast differentiation and function, in the presence of periodontal disease, are necessary and sufficient for BRONJ development in the rat. We will utilize this animal model to uncover the mechanisms of BRONJ and investigate potential therapies.
You are a researcher, oral surgeon and devoted mom. At a time when people struggle to create balance in their professional, personal and family lives, how are you able to achieve that balance?
It’s a work in progress and I have a really great support system—my extended family is close by and I have a super supportive husband. I have two daughters and I teach them that they can do whatever they want; they just have to love what they are doing. Whatever things you think are important in your job or life can be combined together and made into something great. I love what I do outside the house and inside the house, and I’ve really learned how to prioritize. My time is very focused and directed, and I spend much of my free time working. If I didn’t love what I do, it would be impossible for me to do it to this degree.
Where do you think the dental research community would be without AADR?
I don’t think the community would be as collaborative and organized without AADR. It’s a great medium for fostering those collaborative relationships and networking. In addition, I think AADR is very important for students. The meetings are a great forum for students to get involved and network, and meet other scientists and professors they have read about or heard about. Attending the meetings puts everyone on an equal networking level.
What is some advice you offer to your students who want to pursue careers in dental research?
I tell them it takes a lot of time and hard work. Research is not one of those careers that gives you instant gratification. Even if you discover and identify something early, there’s a lot of time and often frustration that researchers face. It’s definitely something that you have to love. At UCLA it’s encouraged that students go to and present at AADR meetings so that they can see what research in the dental community is all about and the type of impact it makes.
Yang Chai is the George and Mary Lou Boone Professor, and associate dean of research at the University of Southern California, School of Dentistry. There, he is also the director of the Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology.
Chai recently made news for the $2 million NIDCR grant he received to study the intricate processes behind tongue development. The long-term goal of the study is to investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in interactions between tissues as the muscle of the tongue develops. Chai is currently the principal investigator of that study, which is titled “Molecular Regulatory Mechanism of Tongue Morphogenesis - Grant #R01 DE14078.”
He is also the principal investigator of the following research projects: “Research on Functional Genomics, Image Analysis and Rescue of Cleft Palate - Grant #U01 DE020065,” with the goal being to generate extensive resources for the FaceBase Consortium and also offer opportunities for extensive collaborations for future translational research on craniofacial birth defects; “TGF-beta signaling and craniofacial morphogenesis - Grant #R01 DE12711,” with the purpose being to gain an understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanism that is critical for regulating palatal fusion during craniofacial morphogenesis; “Interdisciplinary New Faculty Recruitment in Craniofacial Development - Grant #P30 DE020750,” with the intent to recruit faculty to the University of Southern California. These P30 supported faculty will develop integrated research programs working on craniofacial development and tissue regeneration; and “The Molecular Regulatory Mechanism of Calvarial Morphogenesis - Grant #R01 DE 17007,” which is designed to investigate the signaling network involved in regulating frontal bone development and malformation.
Having an extensive background in research, Chai has published more than 80 peer-reviewed papers and is a reviewer for the Journal of Dental Research.
Joined AADR in1990.
1984 D.M.D. Peking University, Beijing, China, Stomatology
1991 Ph.D. University of Southern California, Los Angeles,
1996 D.D.S. University of Southern California, Los Angeles,
What do you hope to learn from your research titled “Molecular Regulatory Mechanism of Tongue Morphogenesis”?
The tongue is a very important organ but despite all of the important functions the tongue performs, there is very little information in literature about how the tongue develops. What we are trying to do is to understand what controls tongue development. We are hoping that this information will help us to learn how to build part of the tongue in the future. Patients with tongue cancer often have large parts of their tongue removed, those patients would benefit from these research findings.
Last year your research team received a grant to work on the FaceBase Consortium. In that vein, what are you and your team currently researching?
My team is working on cleft palate research and tooth development, titled “Research on Functional Genomics, Image Analysis and Rescue of Cleft Palate - Grant #U01 DE020065.” My team is in the process of building a comprehensive database focusing on craniofacial development, with the focus being mid-facial development and birth defects.
How important is it for you to cross collaborate with other researchers?
Cross collaboration with other researchers is extremely important. Some of these interactions have taken place at scientific meetings, such as AADR and IADR meetings. In those situations, we have established contacts and started working on joint projects. Other times, my team and I look for new collaborations by reading published works, and contacting the PI of the study.
What do you consider to be the most valuable benefit of your AADR membership?
I’m trained as a dentist and a scientist, and I’ve always wanted to apply what we do in the lab to clinical work. All of these projects that we do have a clinical focus for the future. I think that AADR helps to provide a forum for this type of exchange and discussion, certainly during the meeting, but also through the Journal of Dental Research. These opportunities for exchange are very useful.
How are you encouraging your students to pursue careers in dental research?
In my lectures, I always provide the latest information that’s available in my lab. That way, my students learn not only from the text book but from science we have just discovered in our research. Many students are interested in our research, and I use that as an opportunity to mentor them and help them to grow to be future educators. If I can get them excited and passionate about dental research, they will be able to stay in the field for a long time. I explain to them that dental and craniofacial research is exciting. In it, one can discover new areas of scientific information and will benefit from the new knowledge for a lifetime.
Jack L. Ferracane is the professor and chair of Restorative Dentistry and division director of Biomaterials & Biomechanics at the Oregon Health & Science University, School of Dentistry in Portland, Oregon. Prior to that, he was an associate professor in the Department of Dental Materials at Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, Texas.
Currently, Ferracane is on sabbatical in Birmingham, UK researching the interaction between dental biomaterials and tooth tissue. His areas of interest include: the influence of resin matrix chemistry and filler composition on the fracture, wear, shrinkage, fatigue and clinical performance of dental composites; factors affecting the generation of polymerization contraction stress in dental composites and its outcomes, the development of bioactive glass as additives for dental materials with the potential for tooth remineralization, and the conduct of clinical studies in dental practice-based research networks.
He is a co-founder of the Academy of Dental Materials and co-director of the NIDCR-funded Northwest PRECEDENT practice-based dental research network, which is a collaboration between OHSU and the University of Washington. PRECEDENT as a whole is Practice-based REsearch Collaborative in Evidence-based DENTistry designed to perform a wide variety of oral health research studies in diverse dental practice settings across a five-state region covering Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Currently, the Northwest PRECEDENT is in its fifth year of a seven-year grant. He is also co-director (along with Thomas Hilton) of the Practice-based Research in Oral Health network (PROH) at OHSU, which has a similar mission to PRECEDENT, but conducts studies mainly funded by the dental industry.
A talented scientist, Ferracane is the author of the book Materials in Dentistry: Principles and Applications. His articles have been published in numerous scientific journals, including the IADR/AADR Journal of Dental Research. He is a recipient of the Wilmer Souder Award from the Dental Materials Group of the IADR.
Joined AADR in1980.
1983 Ph.D. Northwestern University, Biological Materials
1981 M.S. Northwestern University, Biological Materials
1978 B.S. University of Illinois, Urbana, Biological
Sciences, minor in Bioengineering
What motivated you to join AADR?
I was in graduate school at Northwestern University, in biomaterials. I was involved in biomaterials research, specifically in dental materials, and the faculty typically attended the AADR Annual Meeting. The first year I went to the Annual Meeting was in 1979, and I was amazed at the diversity of the research presented. As I continued in dental materials research as a student, it was logical that I would join AADR and continue to attend the annual meetings.
How did you decide to do your sabbatical in the UK?
I’m a material science person, and now what I’m learning is the biology side. I was interested in pursuing this type of work for a sabbatical. Tony Smith’s (editor, Journal of Dental Research) group at the University of Birmingham, England, UK, has been doing this type of research for a long time. About two years ago he invited me to Birmingham to talk to the faculty, as a way of expanding their international collaborations. While I was there—this was during the time I was considering the sabbatical—I became familiar with the very interesting work they were doing, and the high quality of the people there. I told Tony that Birmingham would be a great place for me to do my sabbatical and I asked him if he would be interested in sponsoring me, and fortunately for me he was happy to do so.
What is some of the science you’re learning as a result of your sabbatical?
I’m learning about dentin and pulp cells, and exposing them to materials, and I’m learning about molecular biology techniques. These are things that I have never done before. I’m looking at how the materials interact with tissues—basically dentin and pulp—with the idea that the interactions may actually spur the ability to promote new mineral formation. Normally we look at the potential for toxic reactions between materials and the body or the tooth, but there are also interactions between the two that may cause beneficial changes in tooth tissue, such as the release of specific growth factors. And those molecules may actually have a stimulating effect on forming new dentin to repair the damage that has been done to the tooth by caries.
How important do you think it is for researchers to cross-collaborate with researchers in other scientific disciplines?
It’s critical now, there’s just no way to know enough by yourself. More of the work is becoming interdisciplinary, and it’s becoming increasingly important for researchers to have collaborators with varied interests and expertise. You learn so much by talking to someone who has different training and a different perspective than your own. The research questions have become more complex and require more varied expertise, and I think that is only going to increase. The idea of making an independent investigator who serves as a conduit between the materials side and biology side—which is what a biomaterials person is supposed to be—is not sufficient to solve the big problems because there is too much to know. With that, it’s important to have experts from each discipline come together and work together, but you have to be able to understand each other as well. That is why you have to keep learning and why I am doing this sabbatical.
What is a piece of advice you offer your students to help them succeed professionally?
I advise them to focus on one area in the beginning of their career, and grow and gain a reputation. Then they can branch out naturally as time goes on. Opportunities tend to come as a result. I also encourage them to get involved in their research organizations, as this is how they meet people and make the important contacts they will need throughout their careers. Most important, I tell them to work hard.
Jacques Nör, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., is a professor of Cariology, Restorative Sciences, and Endodontics in the School of Dentistry; Otolaryngology in the School of Medicine; and Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor.
Nör is focused on the cellular and molecular regulation of tumor angiogenesis. In addition, his research group has worked on the use of stem cells for the engineering of dental pulps. Currently, he is the principal investigator on four NIH grants.
Nör is the recipient of many accolades, including the AADR Edward H. Hatton Award. He is on the editorial boards of many scientific journals, including the Journal of Dental Research. He has also served on the AADR Fellowships Committee (2001-2004), and is currently chairing the AADR Edward Hatton Awards committee.
Member since 1993
1985 D.D.S. Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul Dentistry
1994 M.S. University of Michigan, School of Dentistry Pediatric
1999 Ph.D. University of Michigan, School of Dentistry Oral Health
2001 Post-doc University of Michigan, School of Medicine Cancer Cell
What motivated you to join AADR?
I joined AADR so that I could have access to cutting-edge research in dentistry. I graduated in 1985 in Brazil, and came to the US in 1992 as a graduate student at the University of Michigan. Right after joining AADR, I went to my first meeting and discovered it was such a wonderful experience. It opened my eyes to a new world. I came from a background in Brazil that didn’t include much exposure to research, and suddenly I was immersed in research at the AADR meeting in Chicago, and in direct contact with the people I had only heard about and admired. I never imagined I would actually be able to interact with them in person. That was a wonderful feeling—discovering that they were real people that I could to talk to and learn from in person. Since that time I have attended essentially every meeting.
What are you currently researching?
We have a number of projects, all focused on angiogenesis. Our team’s main area of research is head and neck cancer. We are defining how the vascularization of head and neck cancers is regulated, and what we can do to treat tumors by “starving the tumor cells to death.”
A current exciting project stemmed from early work when I was conducting my Ph.D. research with Peter Polverini as my mentor. We made an observation that a protein called Bcl-2 plays a critical role in the regulation of head and neck tumor angiogenesis. I have continued this line of research, and today, 12 years later, we have two NIH/NIDCR R01 grants on this project. We also have funding for this project through the University of Michigan Head and Neck SPORE Grant, an $11 million grant from the NIH/NCI. Gregory Wolf is the overall principal investigator of the Head and Neck SPORE, and I am the principal investigator of one of its four projects. Essentially, our project is based on a clinical trial designed to test in head and neck cancer patients a new drug that blocks Bcl-2 function. Through this project, we have been literally translating our research from the “bench to the bedside.”
What role does cross-collaboration play in your research career?
There’s no other effective way to do science today. Cross-collaboration involves interactions among research individuals within the School of Dentistry, across several schools in the university, and among universities around the world. I feel so fortunate because I have a joint appointment with the otolaryngology department in the medical school, and through that collaboration we have received the head and neck SPORE grant. I have a joint appointment with the biomedical engineering department from the college of engineering, also here at the university. We do a lot of work together, and we published a paper together on the use of micro-fluidics-based approaches to mimic the circulatory system in a chip. We also have a very active collaboration with a group in the mathematics school, and we work on the mathematical modeling of the response of cancers to anti-angiogenic treatment. We just published a paper that shows a novel mathematical approach to determine how tumors will respond to treatment. That’s opening up a new area of research in terms of using mathematics to help us decide which therapies should advance to clinical trials because they have a better chance to succeed in human patients, as opposed to other therapies that do not have as much of a chance. And, in the area of stem cells and dental pulp regeneration, we have very active collaborations with Songtao Shi at the University of Southern California and with Anthony Smith at the University of Birmingham (UK). These collaborations have greatly enriched our research program, and have allowed us to do things that we would never be able to do by ourselves.
What advice do you offer to your students to help them succeed in their careers?
I tell them that research is exciting. It involves creative thinking, discovery, fascinating collaborations, and the thrill of advancing patient care. I love to work with the students and expose them to this excitement. It’s also hard work, but it pays off in the long run. A key concept that I try to explain is that we need to think vertically in research. We need to think forward and not laterally, and push the boundaries forward. I tell my students that we are privileged to have the opportunity to be funded by the NIH and to be trusted with the responsibility to guide progress in dental research wisely. That’s something that I always try to make sure that our students have in their minds.
What do you believe is one of the greatest resources AADR can provide students?
AADR creates a window into the environment of research and a doorway for students to connect with leaders in research. It creates opportunities for students to present their research and compete for awards. It guarantees student exposure. I think that this is something that is so important. I won the Hatton award in 1999, and recently two of my students won that award. I was so thrilled and so proud of them for winning this award. I was happier when they won than when I won, because I know what it means. It opens endless doors downstream in one’s career. I know how that award changed my life. As a result of their receiving that award, many doors are already opening for them, too. That is a critical component of the AADR: to provide opportunities to students to move their careers forward.
Joseph Califano, M.D., is a professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and oncology at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition, he serves as the program director of the head and neck surgical oncology fellowships at Johns Hopkins.
He is an active head and neck surgeon who treats tumors of the oral cavity, larynx, pharynx, neck, skull base, salivary glands, thyroid cancer, premalignant conditions of the upper aerodigestive tract, unknown primary head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, advanced skin cancer, and melanoma.
His research interests include the molecular biologic basis of head and neck cancer and premalignant lesions, including mitochondrial alterations, epigenetic alterations, and molecular detection and surveillance. He is currently involved in a partnership with Howard University to collaborate with development of translational head and neck cancer research.
Califano maintains a clinical practice at Johns Hopkins Head and Neck Surgery at Greater Baltimore Medical Center; the Milton J. Dance Jr. Head and Neck Center, also at GBMC; and The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
AADR Member Since 1987
1993 M.D. Harvard Medical School
1999 Residency The Johns Hopkins University
2000 Fellowship Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
2000 Board Certification American Board of Otolaryngology
What prompted you to join AADR?
I’m an otolaryngologist by training, but my collaborators are in the field of dental research, and a lot of my research interests are in that field as well. Oral cancer is a lot of what I do as a surgeon and what I study as a scientist. Primarily, most of my research interest is looking at pre-cancerous lesions and looking at ways to detect and better screen for oral cancer. AADR and the dental profession as a whole have done a good job of educating people and training them on how to screen people for cancer in general practice. As a result, dental research and researchers who come from the maxillofacial background are more focused on this issue.
What attracted you to otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and oncology?
Before I applied to medical school, I worked in the cancer lab of Anton Wellstein, and he got me excited about cancer research. When I went to medical school, I discovered that, to my surprise, I was a surgeon by habit and mindset—I think that surgeons have a specific personality—but I still loved doing research, especially cancer research. This was a way for me to combine my interest in both fields.
In your field, do you find that cross-collaboration is important to your research?
As a scientist, AADR has opened a lot of avenues for collaboration. Cross-collaboration is key, because without it, there are projects that we simply couldn’t have done without interdisciplinary collaborations. In addition to just being able to study patient cohorts, it’s really necessary to form collaborations with other dental scientists, which has been very important to my research.
Recently, you were awarded a GO Grant and a Challenge Grant. How do you plan to apply these grants to your research?
Those grants are specifically directed at basically getting people employed in research and providing stimulus to the economy. The GO Grant is focused on validating a set of salivary rinse biomarkers and preliminary data to indicate changes to the structure of DNA found in cancer. This can be used to screen salivary rinses and those patients who have these markers present in their salivary rinses who are at risk for local re-occurrence, particularly in the oral cavity. That particular GO Grant is used to validate the initial set of markers for the tests. The Challenge Grant is an attempt to provide a fairly comprehensive look at head and neck cancer biology, with particular focus on using expression array and other whole genome platforms.
What are you doing to encourage students to pursue careers in dental research?
I am collaborating with the Howard University College of Dentistry, and we have established an ongoing collaborative program to develop and grow translational research, with regard to oral cancer at Howard. It’s another example of how the dental profession is being very responsive to adopting translational research in the oral cancer research area. We train dental students and post-dental students who are interested in doing translational research. I’m a co-mentor, and my collaborator and I encourage the students to grow in terms of exposure to academic dentistry and academic medicine, particularly in the cancer field. The more we can encourage people to really link clinical practice with research, the more we can have innovative findings from the dental and medical fields in areas where there is common ground.
Songtao Shi, D.D.S., Ph.D., is currently an associate professor in the Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry. His areas of research include mesenchymal stem cells and diseases, and he’s an expert on wound healing, tissue engineering and stem cells.
Shi began his USC career in 1989 as a research associate. In 1999 he joined the NIH, where he earned a reputation as a brilliant scientist. In 2006, he was recruited back to USC as a researcher in the School of Dentistry’s Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology. Since then, he has reported a string of significant discoveries.
He is currently the principal investigator of four studies: “Interplays between the Jaw Mesenchymal Stem Cells and T-lymphocytes”, “Gingiva-derived MSCs: Role in Immunomodulation and Tissue Regeneration", "Osteogenic Mechanisms of SHED" and "Oral and Craniofacial Reconstruction Using Mesenchymal Stem Cells." He is the subcontract principal investigator for "Stem Cell Based Therapy for Regenerative Endodontics."
He has more than 80 published research works and has received accolades for his research.
Member since 2003
1983 D.D.S. Peking University School of Stomatology, Beijing, China,
1986 M.S. Peking University School of Stomatology, Beijing, China,
1994 Ph.D. University of Southern California, Los Angeles,
1997 Postdoc University of California-San Francisco, Skeletal Biology
What are you currently researching?
We are continuing to work on the stem cells that are derived from dental and orofacial tissues. We are looking into how their influence can be used for clinical therapy. Another research direction we are trying to understand is how some diseases in the orofacial region are related to the stem cells. My team and I are doing the translational research right now.
How important is it for you to cross-collaborate with researchers in other scientific disciplines?
In the past, people could have small labs and answer questions within that lab. Now, I believe we are trying to form and answer questions that are important to our patients and important to the field. If we really want to look deeper, we need to obtain knowledge from other fields and other collaborators. Cross-collaboration has become increasingly important in research as a means to answer important questions. Through AADR I have met new collaborators, which is very important to my research career, and that also keeps me apprised of other research that’s taking place in the field.
How do you think AADR has affected the dental research community?
I think AADR is the platform for researchers to understand the field, and to communicate with and encourage others. We would be lost without that platform. It’s very critical to have that support from AADR to help the community and dental research field move forward. No other organization, or any other organization’s meetings, can replace the platform that AADR and IADR provide. The benefits that AADR provides are important to senior and young investigators alike.
What do you tell your students to encourage them to enter the field of dental research?
There are so many beautiful things we can do in this field. In addition, there are so many important questions that we have yet to answer, such as how teeth erupt. There are also many diseases and anomalies that are connected to the orofacial region. I advise my students to try to understand those questions. In the orofacial region, we have so many stem cells available to us, and we are so close to being able to use stem cells for therapy. Periodontal disease is just one example. I believe that disease is close to being cured through the use of stem cells. We are moving in that direction, not only in dental research but in the medical field as well. I try to educate my students on these opportunities, because there is myriad research that can be done.