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Dean Ho - October 2015

Dean Ho, Ph.D. is a professor in the Division of Oral Biology and Medicine and co-director of the Jane and Jerry Weintraub Center for Reconstructive Biotechnology at the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Dentistry. He is also a professor of bioengineering and a member of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and California NanoSystems Institute. Previously he was an associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering at Northwestern University.  

Ho received his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from UCLA. Today he leads one of the pre-eminent teams in the world that is developing nanodiamonds as drug delivery agents, and has pioneered multiple approaches towards improved therapeutic efficiency using engineering and nanotechnology-based approaches. In the area of chemotherapy, his team developed NDX, a nanodiamond-drug complex based upon the potent interaction of the diamond surface with doxorubicin, a commonly used cancer drug in the clinic that is also highly toxic. Through the synthesis of NDX, a marked enhancement in drug efficacy and reduced toxicity were demonstrated over clinical standards. 

Ho is also working with collaborators to harness personalized medicine platforms to optimize nano-formulated as well as unmodified drug combinations for applications in chemotherapy, infectious diseases, and other applications. In the area of oral health/dental research, his team is combining its expertise in nanomedicine, drug development, and personalized medicine to develop new therapies for bone growth and oral cancer treatment, among other indications.

He is currently the inaugural endowed fellow and president of the board of directors of the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening, which is a 22,000+ member international society focused on drug development at the interface of academia and industry. Ho has given more than 100 international lectures (invited, keynote and plenary), and his research achievements have garnered news coverage on the CNN and NPR homepages, Reuters, Yahoo, Voice of America and The Chicago Tribune, among other international news outlets. Ho has also appeared on the National Geographic Channel program 'Known Universe' which aired domestically and internationally. 

Ho is a recipient of the IADR Young Investigator Award, IADR William J. Gies Award, NSF CAREER Award, Wallace H. Coulter Translational Research Award (Phase I and II), V Foundation for Cancer Research Scholars Award, John G. Bollinger Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award, and was invited to attend the 2010 National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Symposium. He has been an AADR member since 2013. 

How did you first get involved in AADR and what motivated you to join?
My background is in biomedical engineering. I completed my Ph.D. at UCLA and then joined the faculty at Northwestern University. While there I worked with many amazing colleagues developing different ways to use nanodiamond particles to do drug delivery and diagnostics. Time passed and I was promoted to tenure at Northwestern and I still had many great colleagues at UCLA, including one who was the chair of bioengineering and practicing clinician in advanced prosthodontics. That colleague introduced me to the dean of dentistry at UCLA and when we met, he indicated his interest in nanomedicine and new ways to treat diseases. After that meeting, I started interacting with more of the faculty at UCLA. One of the things I like about the oral health profession is that there is a clear path to moving new technologies into the clinic. That’s when I started to explore all of the research in the field. Then in 2013 I attended my first AADR meeting and had a great time interacting with people. Being involved in AADR has been good because there are challenges in the clinic and I think many of those challenges are easier to address using bioengineering. It makes a lot of sense to combine expertise in bioengineering with dentistry.

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of your AADR membership?
Attending the meetings has been really productive for me. I’ve attended a number of the meetings and the ability to interact with active researchers from all over the world is valuable. There are different ideas that come from different areas of the world and the ability to have access to expertise from colleagues everywhere has been a very strong part of my membership because it helps accelerate new technologies into the clinic. Another aspect that I like is that the meetings blend clinical, basic and translational expertise in one place and I find that in the publications as well. 

How important do you think it is to cross-collaborate with other scientific disciplines to advance the field?
I think it’s absolutely vital. When I first started working in the field of nanotechnology, I interacted with radiologists, materials scientists, surgeons, bioengineers, mathematicians, mechanical engineers, chemists—many people from different fields. So many questions come up when you’re working hard to implement something new in the field and in order to answer those questions you have to collaborate with people in other disciplines. Multi-disciplinary innovation is basically the future; it’s the true catalyst for not just discovery but for actually translating research into practice. 

What would you say to new AADR members to encourage them to be active and engaged in AADR? 
From a perspective of academia, it’s vital for a person who has developed new technologies and wants to get their technology into clinics to attend the AADR meetings because the key players are there. Everybody in the field is busy—there are people traveling, people are busy in their clinics and in their labs—but it’s critical to get out there and basically get a Litmus test every time you to go the meetings. When you attend the meetings and present your research and technology, people ask the questions you need to refine your research. Another way to be a more engaged member is to be involved in the leadership—serving on a committee, or as a session chair, or on the AADR Board. No matter your background, you can learn many things by being an involved AADR member.  

What’s a message you want to give to future dental researchers?
Research may not be for everyone but I guarantee there are more students that would benefit from doing research than the number who are actually doing research right now. I challenge students to spend literally an hour to surf the Web and research faculty at their institution or other institutions and find out what’s going on in the field. Then I challenge them to really think if they have an interest in developing something that could change the way dentistry is practiced. My dental students have looked into new therapies and they’re doing dental technologies. I’m not sure that students realize that there’s room for innovation but there is always opportunity for students to become pioneers in their field. 


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