Intramural Training Award Recipients

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Fellowships to Enhance Diversity in Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research

Jamiya Kirkland – NIDCR Director’s Postbaccalaureate Fellow (Postbac) (2022-present)

Jamiya Kirkland.

I am a 2021 summa cum laude graduate of Howard University majoring in Biology and minoring in Sociology and African American Studies. As a recipient of the NIDCR Postbac Diversity Fellowship, I work in the Kerosuo Neural Crest Development and Disease Unit research lab. During my undergraduate career, I worked under Yayin Fang, Ph.D. for four years completing molecular docking studies for anticonvulsant enaminones designed to control epileptic seizures targeting voltage-gated sodium channels using the Molecular Operating Environment (MOE). In Dr. Kerosuo’s lab my goal is to expand my knowledge in computational biology and coding to understand molecular mechanisms of neural crest development. I’m excited to join the NIH community to gain valuable experience in biomedical research as I prepare for my next career step to attend medical school with plans of specializing in gynecology or plastic surgery.

Belmaliz Cardona Rodriguez – NIDCR Director’s Postbac Fellow (2022-present)

Belmaliz Cardona Rodriguez.

I graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus with a bachelor's degree in Industrial Microbiology. As an undergraduate student I worked in an Extremophiles Lab (focused on Archaea’s) and in a Mycology Lab. These experiences have exposed me to various experimental techniques. My true research interests though, are in the areas of the Oral Microbiome and Periodontal disease. To pursue these interests, I have joined the laboratory of Dr. Niki Moutsopoulos at NIDCR as a postbac IRTA. I will be mentored by Dr. Tomoko Ikeuchi and will contribute to projects relevant to understanding mechanisms of periodontitis using animal models. I’m really excited about this journey, which I hope will lead me to pursue a D.D.S./Ph.D. degree. It's an honor to be part of this team of outstanding scientists. I'm looking forward to learning and growing at NIDCR.

Kapsa Bengyella – NIDCR Director's Postbac Fellow (2020-2022) 

Kapsa Bengyella.

I am a postbac fellow in the Somatosensation and Pain Unit of NIDCR. My project centers on the functional characterization of a specialized population of spinal neurons (the postsynaptic dorsal column neurons) that mediate touch and proprioception. There are instances when an individual's tactile sense can get disrupted and normal light touch can become a painful experience; for example, clothes rubbing against the skin when getting dressed. Our lab is working to decipher the neural circuits that modulate touch and pain with the hope of understanding more about how touch is modulated in the central nervous system. Some of my daily tasks in the lab include performing stereotaxic surgeries to target and label these spinal neurons in the gracile nucleus of the mouse brain. I also perform standard immunohistochemical procedures as well as behavioral assays to assess pain hypersensitization in the mouse hindpaw. It is really rewarding to be involved in science in progress. I have learned a lot from the training at the institute and from my mentor, Dr. Liu.

Amy-Claire Dauphin – NIDCR Director's Postbac Fellow (2020-2022)

Amy-Claire Dauphin.

I am a recent summa cum laude graduate of Oakwood University and recipient of the NIDCR Postbaccalaureate Diversity Fellowship. I work in the Lab of Dr. Kelly Ten Hagen where I am strengthening my research competencies by focusing on O-linked glycosylation. My duties include aiding in the identification and characterization of known and unknown cell populations in the Drosophila larval salivary glands. Aiming to elucidate the role of O-glycosylation in development and disease, my contributions focus on the conceptualization of how large, highly-glycosylated proteins are synthesized, packaged and secreted in Drosophila larval salivary glands. I'm excited to be at NIH as a result of funding from NIDCR, and I'm eager to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. degree studying diseases, existing and emerging, on at-risk and neglected populations as the next step in my professional journey.

Makeda Berhane – NIDCR Director's Postbac Fellow (2020-2021)

Makeda Berhane.

I am a current postbac fellow in the Molecular Biology of Bone and Teeth Section under Dr. Priyam Jani. Our lab’s research focus is to review previous studies that discuss Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) and Dentinogenesis Imperfecta (DGI) involving changes in collagen, tooth color, and blood flow with the aging process and differences in tooth eruption, root completion, and dentin formation rate and structure. Our research will aid clinicians to better diagnose patients with OI and DGI to ameliorate dental functions and improve overall quality of life. Following my fellowship, I will be matriculating as an incoming medical student at Tufts School of Medicine with plans of specializing in Pediatric Orthopedics.

Jason Collins – NIDCR Director's Postdoc Fellow (2018-Present)

Jason Collins.

I am a postdoctoral fellow and award winner of the NIDCR Director’s Diversity Fellowship. This award has helped me to apply my expertise in protein biochemistry and molecular biology to study ubiquitin dependent mechanisms of cell fate determination during development. My research is focused on the essential gene UBA1, which is the apex of the ubiquitylation pathway and is important for all of cellular ubiquitylation. We focus on understanding the cellular regulation and function of UBA1 to further our insights into in human development and disease. Recently, in a collaborative effort with NHGRI we discovered and characterized the mechanism of a novel undiagnosed auto-inflammatory disease we call VEXAS. Not only has the award given me the opportunity to contribute to novel disease discovery and do cutting edge science, but it allows me to contribute to a more diverse program and promote diversity in the postdoctoral community. More importantly, it allows me to serve as a role model for the next generation of future postdoctoral trainees and help build a more diverse and inclusive research experience.

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Sang-A Park Memorial Intramural Postdoctoral Fellowship

Surangi Perera – Postdoc Fellow (2019-Present)

Surangi Perera.

I was awarded the Sang-A Park Fellowship to support my postdoctoral research. This award has allowed me to focus on my research interests and study neural crest development and differentiation. One of the main projects I have been working on at NIDCR has been to characterize the in vitro generation of human neural crest cells. I am using transcriptomics combined with immunohistochemistry and fluorescent in situ hybridization to increase our understanding of human neural crest development and how these in vitro human models compare to what we know from other animal model systems in vivo. Outside of scientific research, I am passionate about science education and outreach (a key component of the fellowship), and I organize an outreach project at an elementary school in the local area. Together with five other NIH trainees, we design and present hands-on science activities to 4th graders in line with their science curriculum. We hope this will expose the students to what it is like to be a scientist from an early age. The support from this fellowship has allowed me to conduct cutting-edge research, engage in real-world discussions about the place of science in everyday life, and foster the next generation of scientists.

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Dental Public Health Research Fellowship

Payal Rajender Kumar, M.P.H, B.D.S, M.D.S.

Payal Rajender Kumar, M.P.H, B.D.S, M.D.S.

I earned my B.D.S. and general practice residency from the Government Dental Hospital, India and M.D.S. (master’s in dental surgery, Prosthodontics) from the Sharda University, India. After this I earned my M.P.H. from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore. I have worked on various large scale public health programs, particularly in low and middle-income countries, with global public health experts at Johns Hopkins.
I joined the Dental Public Health Program looking to harness the potential of recent developments in machine learning and Al to develop advanced solutions for improving oral and dental health.

Iriana Pena Manrique, D.D.S, M.S.

Iriana Pena Manrique, D.D.S, M.S.

I earned my D.D.S. from San Antonio Abad Public University in Cusco, Peru. Subsequently, I pursued a certificate in Advanced Education in General Dentistry at the University of Connecticut, an M.S. in Global Health Policy and Management at Brandeis University, and an M.S. in Epidemiology at Georgetown University. Before coming to the United States, I worked in private practice, the public sector, and for organizations aimed at providing dental healthcare to lower-income communities in Peru. My research interests are focused on the prevention of oral cancer and disparities in HPV vaccine accessibility and utilization. I am enthusiastic to continue my training and experience at NIDCR to become a dental public health specialist and promote policies to improve oral health in the population.

Fatemeh M. Pour, D.D.S, M.P.H.

Fatemeh M. Pour, D.D.S, M.P.H.

I earned my D.D.S. from Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Iran, and my M.P.H. from the University of Texas Science Center at Houston. Prior joining NIDCR as a DPH fellow, I worked as a data specialist at the Diabetes and Glandular Disease Clinic in San Antonio, TX which helped me to gain firsthand experience in a clinical trial research setting. My work experience as a general dentist in Iran included providing dental care to a variety of patients with a focus on children from marginalized populations. I hope to earn an immense set of skills and expertise to be able to impact oral health promotion through research, policy, and interdisciplinary collaborations.

Ishita Singh, B.D.S., M.P.H.

Ishita Singh, B.D.S., M.P.H.

I earned my B.D.S. from the National Dental College and Hospital, India, and my M.P.H. from the University of Utah. Prior to joining NIDCR as a dental public health fellow, I worked as a healthcare delivery research intern at Intermountain Healthcare to study and address social health determinants’ impact on the population. My research interest lies in oral health disparities, oropharyngeal cancers, and oral consequences of narcotics and combustible product use. I'm keen to advance my career at NIDCR to become a dental public health specialist and researcher to promote oral health sciences and public health practice.

Leah Leinbach, D.M.D., M.P.H.

Leah Leinbach, D.M.D., M.P.H.

I earned my D.M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and my M.P.H. from Johns Hopkins University. Before joining NIDCR’s Dental Public Health Research Fellowship program, I was an assistant professor and chief of the division of oral health at Pennsylvania State University, delivering patient care in support of cardiac and oncology services. My clinical experience focused on patient oral health care in conjunction with managing other health conditions. I hope to leverage my past clinical experiences with research skills gained through the fellowship to promote the integration of oral health into the broader healthcare system.

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Fellowship Alum

Jamil Cherry – NIDCR Director's Postbac Fellow (2018-2019)

Jamil Cherry

I am a fourth year dental student at Howard University College of Dentistry. In 2019, I completed the post baccalaureate program under the supervision and mentorship of Dr. Marian Young and Dr. Hai Pham. My project involved finding the phenotype of Collagen Type VI knockout mice and its effects on the periodontal ligament. In my free time, I enjoy running, hiking, fishing, and reading science books. I am currently applying to post-doctoral residencies in advanced education in general dentistry and dental public health.

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Last Reviewed
May 2024