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October 2014

This month, AADR is featuring AADR Institutional Section Member the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in the Strides in Science. AADR interviewed Associate Dean Russell Taichman to learn more about the scientific advances the school is making.

Currently, the University of Michigan School of Dentistry is an AADR President’s Circle Level Institutional Section Member. They have been a member since 1999 and have exhibited at many IADR and AADR meetings, including the 2014 AADR/CADR Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Charlotte, N.C. 

Last year, the University of Michigan School of Dentistry set a goal to raise $35 million during the University’s Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign. The School’s effort is part of a larger University goal to raise $4 billion, the largest fundraising effort in the history of public higher education, before the campaign ends in 2018.

The School’s $35 million goal includes the following objectives:

  • Scholarship and Fellowship Support: $11.0 million;
  • Clinical Facilities Support: $18.0 million;
  • Curriculum Support: $1.0 million;
  • Faculty Support: $1.5 million;
  • Research Support: $1.5 million; and 
  • Discretionary Support: $2.0 million.

In 2012, the University announced the MCubed program, which is a two-year seed-funding program designed to empower interdisciplinary teams of University of Michigan faculty to pursue new initiatives with major societal impact. The program minimizes the time between idea conception and successful research results by providing immediate startup funds for novel, high-risk and transformative research projects. The funds are intended to generate data for groundbreaking, high-impact publications, or preliminary results for new, innovative research proposals. The program also includes high-visibility, campus-wide research symposia to showcase the resulting groundbreaking research. Taichman and 22 other School of Dentistry investigators are participating investigators in the 200 pilot projects funded through the MCubed program.  More information may be found at www.mcubed.umich.edu.   

University of Michigan faculty researcher Yvonne Kapila in her lab.

What is one of the main research goals of the School of Dentistry?
Research and discovery are integral to the School of Dentistry’s mission. The overarching goal is to facilitate clinical excellence by moving discoveries in the clinic to the bench top and back to the clinic. Working toward that goal, we have invested heavily in basic, clinical and translational research as well as educational and leadership research. Many of our faculty move across these platforms. One of our major efforts is to provide opportunities for all of our students to be involved in scholarship. In their first year, DDS students have a choice to get involved in three major scholarship venues. They can select a project in the research track, clinical-translational care track (health care delivery), and the leadership track.  The expectation is that even at the earliest entry phase into the profession, these students are looking at their profession differently and the project they chose facilitates a deeper dive into the profession. This is our Pathway Program.

What is some of the research the School of Dentistry is producing?
The very best thing about the University of Michigan School of Dentistry is the people.  We have many investigators engaged in very impressive science. Our excellent faculty and inspired students allow us to build on the strengths of our research enterprise, specifically in the areas of craniofacial and developmental biology; mineralized tissue and bone biology; oral and pharyngeal cancer; oral sensory pain neuroscience; oral infectious and immunologic diseases; and tissue engineering and regeneration. Projects are underway that involve the use of gene therapy to stop the progression of periodontal disease; tissue engineering approaches to repair head/neck/facial injuries; the mechanics of chewing and TMJ disorders; examining the oral health of women who are undergoing breast cancer therapy; and the regeneration of tissues, such as lips. A group of investigators are studying craniofacial development, genetics and infectious diseases, and many investigators are involved in cancer research.  Important clinical investigations are being conducted on dental caries, restorative biology and quality of life issues.  My research focus is on the role of osteoblasts in normal bone marrow function.  It is exciting to be part of this incredible research enterprise.

How is the School of Dentistry encouraging students to pursue careers in dental research?
Matching students with mentors who have similar research interests is one of the ways we help students see how a career in oral health research can be rewarding. It’s exciting when students find research mentors who are willing to take them under their wing. Some students come into the dental school with a significant background in research and some come with none at all. I have a student in my lab who had no background in research, but a very keen interest.  He was given an opportunity to do research and he enjoys it. We also support students who want to participate in an on campus year-out period to conduct basic or clinical research. Through the Intensive Clinical Research Training Program and the Medical Research Scholars Program, students may travel to the NIH-NIDCR for this training. We also have an Oral Health Sciences PhD Program.  This Program is designed for exceptional students who aspire to a career in academic dentistry as a dental scientist. Training options include a dual degree in DDS/OHS PhD, Specialty MS/OHS PhD, and the PhD. Most of our graduates have gone on to academic careers with peer U.S. universities or international universities.

How do you prepare students to present their research at scientific meetings?
Once we match students with mentors, the students are given the opportunity to do an individualized research project that can range from basic science to clinical / translational research.  Working with their research mentors, students who have a goal of presenting their work at IADR/AADR meetings are able to plan and do research that is appropriate for those meetings. 

What are you telling students to encourage them to pursue careers in dental research?
I frequently say that it is the absolute best career choice you can make. You can pursue your dreams in science and dentistry, and there are relatively few barriers to make that happen. The doors that get opened are absolutely stunning. If you are passionate about dental research and you can secure the resources needed, you can do almost anything! I am very grateful that I made the choice to pursue dental research—even on the difficult days I’m still grateful for making this my path. I started out as a bench scientist and my work is now moving into clinical trials. I never thought that I would be engaged in those opportunities but this university setting has made that a reality. I’m excited for the next generation of scientists who will also contribute to the field.

Previous Article David C. Johnsen - September 2014
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