NIDCR Award for Sustaining Outstanding Achievement in Research (SOAR) (R35)

Division of Extramural Research

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The objective of the NIDCR Award for Sustaining Outstanding Achievement in Research (SOAR) is to provide longer-term support to NIDCR-funded investigators, who are in their mid-career stage, and have outstanding records of research productivity, mentorship and professional service to the research community. It is expected that the SOAR Award will propel the investigator along this career trajectory and allow him/her to embark on ambitious longer-term projects of extraordinary potential within the mission of NIDCR.

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The overall goal of this initiative is to provide sustained and flexible support to NIDCR-funded investigators, who are in their mid-career stage, and have outstanding records of research productivity, to conduct exceptionally innovative research with extraordinary potential for improving dental, oral, and craniofacial health. This award provides longer base of grant support, allowing investigators to have more freedom to perform high-risk, high-reward research that has the potential to break new ground or expand previous discoveries in new directions. It is anticipated that sustained and flexible support will also foster creativity, allow emerging scientific and technological advances to be pursued, maximize research time, enable additional mentoring activities, and provide an opportunity to focus on enhancing career growth. This initiative requires the investigator to develop an overall research program, including future scientific directions and strategies that build on prior research accomplishments in the area of dental, oral, and craniofacial health and disease.

Since approval of the initial concept clearance by January 2015 Council, five RFAs have been issued – RFA-DE-17-002, RFA-DE-18-002, RFA-DE-18-011, RFA-DE-19-005, and RFA-DE-20-002.

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Key Features and Requirements

  • Eligibility is limited to investigators with at least one active NIDCR-supported R01 or R01 equivalent (DP1, U01, R56 only), AND at least five years of continuous NIDCR support as PD/PI, on September 30 of the preceding fiscal year, excluding fellowships and career development awards.
  • Applicants must have no more than ten years of research career experience following the loss of his/her Early Stage Investigator (ESI) status at the time of application. Loss of ESI status could be due to receipt of a competitive substantial NIH independent research award, or expiration of status.
  • Research Strategy:
    • Background: Describe the general area of dental, oral and craniofacial research of interest and its state of the science. Identify significant knowledge gaps across the research landscape and challenges to bridge theses gaps. Describe the overall scope and impact of the proposed research program to the field.
    • Research Program: Describe the overall vision, conceptual framework, and roadmap to pursue broad and challenging research questions/directions, and general strategies for furthering and sustaining this research program.
    • Predictors of Success: Describe elements that contribute to the strong prediction of success in continuing and maintaining a soaring trajectory in groundbreaking research, such as collaborative network, resources, environment, and relevant technological advances.
    • Suitability for the SOAR Program: Justify that the career stage suits the SOAR program, and demonstrate that the scope of research is sufficiently comprehensive, forward-thinking, and innovative to follow a soaring trajectory and benefit from increased flexibility and duration of the SOAR Program.
  • Letter of Support: Required from the applicant's institution on evaluating and endorsing the outstanding research productivity of the PD/PI and his/her career potential, as well as on institutional commitment.
  • Biosketch: Required to include a description of track record of mentorship and professional service to the research community.
  • During the SOAR Award, investigators have the freedom, within the broadly defined scope of the research, to move in unanticipated directions, with an emphasis on research of high-risk, high-reward, or of extraordinary potential.
  • Only single PD/PI applications are allowed.
  • Required minimum level of effort is 6.12 person months (51%).
  • Budgets are limited to $650,000 direct costs per year for all years.
  • Awardees are required to consolidate their NIDCR single PD/PI research grant support, including R01, R21, R03, R56, R15, and DP2 support.
  • In addition to standard review criteria, reviewers evaluate the PI’s track record (past productivity, quality and impact of PI’s previous work, mentoring activities, and professional service) to assess the investigator’s potential to perform innovative and groundbreaking research, and suitability for long-term support through the SOAR award.
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Funding Outcomes

From FY2016 to FY2019, ten awards have been made. Applications responding to the FY2020 RFA are pending review.

Grant Number PI Degree(s) Institution Project Title
R35-DE026602 Klein, Ophir MD, PhD University of California, San Francisco Harnessing Natural Stem Cell-Based Strategies for Mammalian Dental Renewal
R35-DE026631 D'Souza, Gypsyamber MPH, PhD Johns Hopkins University Impacting the Oral HPV Continuum: Prevention; Screening; and Early Detection
R35-DE027551 D'Silva, Nisha DDS, PhD University of Michigan At Ann Arbor Improving Survival in Oral Cancer by Disruption of Tumor Progression
R35-DE027557 Brugmann, Samantha PhD Cincinnati Children’s Hosp Med Ctr Harnessing the Therapeutic Potential of Neural Crest Cells by Manipulating the Primary Cilium
R35-DE027556 Feng, Pinghui PhD University of Southern California Exploring Roles of Protein Deamidation in Oral Inflammation
R35-DE027550 Crump, Gage PhD University of Southern California Progenitor Regulation in Craniofacial Development and Regeneration
R35-DE028252 Merritt, Justin PhD Oregon Health & Science University Advancing Studies of Polymicrobial Diseases Via Streptococcal Genetics
R35-DE028255 Knox, Sarah PhD University of California, San Francisco Defining Mechanisms Driving Salivary Gland Regeneration
R35-DE029083 Pfeifer, Carmem DDS, PhD Oregon Health & Science University Novel Polymeric Materials with Improved Durability in the Oral Environment
R35-DE029086 Eberhart, Johann PhD University of Texas, Austin Mechanisms Underlying the Multifaceted Basis of Craniofacial Dysmorphogenesis


The ten SOAR research programs encompass diverse areas including stem cell biology, craniofacial developmental biology, oral immunology, oral cancer biology, oral microbiology, salivary gland biology, dental material science, and epidemiology. Two awards include diversity supplements. Three awardees are clinicians, including two dentist-scientists, and there is equal representation of women and men among the PIs.


There are early indicators of success among the SOAR PIs quantitatively and qualitatively. SOAR PIs have been productive as measured by the number of publications. SOAR PIs with awards that were launched in FY2016 have produced 13.8 articles per award so far that report primary findings, and 16.5 total publications per award including reviews, with many of these papers in high impact journals. These PIs also exhibit overall increase in productivity in their NIH RPG awards. Over a 3-year window, these PIs produced 4.2 and 11 total publications, before and after receiving the SOAR award, respectively. A similar trend is observed in the FY2017 cohort. Qualitatively, all SOAR PIs reported that there have been achievements they have reached sooner with R35 support, compared to if they were only supported by the R01, as well as opportunities that have been afforded by the R35 that would not be possible under the R01. On scientific impact, SOAR PIs commented that they have accelerated research progress on all fronts and have been able to concentrate on publishing, because of more time spent on research than on grant applications. They have also been able to generate, pursue and deliver on new scientific ideas and directions, including high risk work. As such, they have broadened their collaborative network; they have reached out and cultivated new connections, while also being sought after by those outside of their field. On mentoring and professional service, SOAR PIs remarked that they have been able to recruit high quality dedicated personnel because of the prestige and stability of the award. Many have been recognized by prestigious honors, and taken on leadership roles at their universities and in professional organizations.

Taken together, the SOAR initiative is fulfilling its goals. Short-term outcomes are encouraging, while long-term metrics of success are being tracked. It is hoped that these SOAR investigators will continue to flourish and assert a positive and sustained impact to their research field and the research community.

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Selected Publications from SOAR Awardees

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Last Reviewed
June 2020