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Dobrawa Napierala - January 2015

Dobrawa Napierala, M.Sc., Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, School of Dentistry, Institute of Oral Health Research, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. There she is also an adjunct faculty in the Department of Pathology. Prior to that she was an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, Department of Molecular & Human Genetics. She earned her M.Sc. in biotechnology from the University of Adam Mickiewicz, Poznan, Poland; her Ph.D. from the Institute of Human Genetics/Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, Polish Academy of Science, Poznan, Poland; and her Postdoctoral from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

Napierala’s long term research goal is understanding molecular determinants of disorders affecting development and homeostasis of mineralizing tissues. In particular, she is interested in the regulation of gene expression in response to various signaling pathways during the mineralization process. 

She has received extensive training in molecular and developmental biology, biochemistry and genetics, as related to musculoskeletal system. Napierala has more than 10 years of experience in generating and analyzing knock-out and transgenic mice to study molecular mechanisms of development and homeostasis of mineralizing tissues. As a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Brendan Lee, at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute/Baylor College of Medicine, she studied molecular mechanisms of cartilage development and genetic bases of human skeletal disorders. Her studies on the regulation of Runx2, the key transcription factor involved in skeletal formation and homeostasis, led to the identification of TRPS1 as a repressor of Runx2 during endochondral bone development. In humans, TRPS1 mutations cause tricho-rhino-phalangeal syndrome (TRPS) and Ambras syndrome. She also studied a mouse model of TRPS to understand the molecular abnormalities underlying skeletal dysplasia in TRPS and uncovered that TRPS1 regulates hedgehog signaling and is required for synchronized development of chondrocytes and perichondrium. 

In her current position, she and her research team further developed in vitro and in vivo studies aiming at deciphering molecular pathways controlling mineralization of skeletal and dental tissues. In the course of these studies they discovered that TRPS1 is a regulator of mineralization, which acts in a context-dependent manner. They also uncovered that TRPS1 represses the function of mature odontoblasts. Using the combination of in vivo and in vitro approaches we demonstrated that TRPS1 represses Dspp through direct interactions with its promoter, and the downregulation of Dspp contributes to defective dentinogenesis in Co1a1-TRPS1 transgenic mice. More recently, she and her research team discovered that TRPS1 is involved in different molecular networks in osteogenic progenitor cells and in mature cells, and this molecular context determines whether TRPS1 supports or repressed tissue mineralization.

Napierala has been an AADR member since 2010 and has been active in several IADR Scientific Groups/Networks. 

How did you first get involved with AADR?
Rena D’Souza is the person who introduced me to IADR and AADR. I am trained in bone biology and earlier in my career my research didn’t include dental research. At some point I accidentally made my switch to dental research and that’s when I reached out to Dr. D’Souza because I knew that she was working in the field. She suggested that I attend an AADR meeting, present my data and talk to other dental researchers about my project. It was an eye-opening experience because before then I had no idea about the breadth and depth of the dental research field. That was a wonderful meeting experience and I still keep in contact with some of the people I met at that very first meeting. Now dental research is the main focus of my work and I credit that to attending my first AADR meeting years ago. 

Describe the first AADR meeting you attended.
The first AADR meeting I attended was the 2010 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. I went to the meeting because I submitted an abstract and I wanted to receive feedback on my research. I had no knowledge on how to evaluate my research and I knew I would be able to receive valuable feedback at the meeting. I had many wonderful interactions at that meeting. I remember returning to my university and telling my boss that I really wanted to do dental research because AADR is a wonderful, collaborative organization. Attending that meeting and establishing connections gave me the confidence I needed to continue to research, which is very important when you’re doing independent research. Also, AADR organizes many activities for students and trainees at the meetings and those activities are designed to facilitate networking and career development. These opportunities are extremely important to future scientists and I think AADR is doing a great job with that. 

Other than learning the science that is presented, what is one of the main benefits of attending an AADR Annual Meeting? 
In addition to the science that’s presented at the meetings, one of the benefits is the opportunity to meet mentors. Through a symposium at one of the AADR meetings I attended, I met Nisha D’Silva, and she sat with me and went through my goals for the future. She really guided me through the steps I should take to achieve those goals and what she said stuck with me. She assured me that I was doing what I was supposed to do and that I would be fine. I wouldn’t have received the feedback and mentoring that she provided had I not attended that meeting. I encourage people to really reach out and find mentors at these meetings because that proved to be helpful for my career. 

Have you been able to form research collaborations with contacts you made at the AADR Annual Meetings?
Yes, I have and attending the AADR Annual Meetings has been critical for my cross-collaborations. From the first meeting I attended in 2010, I started collaborating with other researchers I met at the meetings and those connections have been very fruitful. The 2010 Annual Meeting was the most critical meeting for my career this far. One reason is because I was recruited to my first independent position as a result of that meeting. The collaborations and the building up of interdisciplinary research are based on the interactions I had with other researchers at that meeting. From that meeting my career has accelerated dramatically. 

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
I think the most valuable benefit is the research network. AADR provides a stimulating and lively environment at the meetings, and the culture of the group for openness and support makes AADR the go-to place for me and others who are involved in research. I have found that the other members have been very helpful and willing to give advice when I have questions. Some of my most successful collaborations started through AADR and the supportive environment it provides. 

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