To help integrate informatics (big data) into oral health care, NIDCR is developing national-level partnerships focused on the use of informatics and is funding high-quality research that incorporates data science principles.
“We want to be part of the transformation in oral health care where in the future dental practitioners will be able to routinely integrate data from dental and medical records to deliver enhanced patient care,” said NIDCR Director Martha J. Somerman, DDS, PhD.
To share their vision of the future with dental practitioners, Dr. Somerman and Acting Deputy Director John Kusiak, PhD, published a guest editorial called “Data science at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: Changing dental practice” in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.
“We want to change the perception that biomedical research and oral health care are separate pursuits, and we hope that in the not-too-distant future, it will be more common for dental practitioners to become invested in the research process with dental researchers,” said Dr. Somerman. “We want dentists’ clinical observations to feed back into the research process at a greater degree than is happening now.”
In addition to forming national partnerships, funding informatics research, and engaging more dentists in the research process, NIDCR is also involved in training dental practitioners to use informatics. This summer, NIDCR and the National Library of Medicine launched the first-of-its-kind oral health informatics fellowship to train dental professionals in data science principles. The NIDCR-NLM Fellowship provides dental public health specialty training and public health informatics training to dental professionals with an interest in applying informatics science as it relates to dental research, education, and clinical care.
“Dental practitioners will be pivotal in incorporating the knowledge gained from data science into clinical care,” said Dr. Somerman. “Our program will train a cadre of early users of dental informatics.”
The Forum on Regenerative Medicine brings together representatives from government, academia, industry, patient advocacy groups, health care provider organizations, and others to discuss issues in a neutral setting. The forum’s first meeting was held on June 28 at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, DC. Registration is now open for the second meeting, which will be held on October 13 and is called “State of the Science in the Field of Regenerative Medicine: Challenges of and Opportunities for Cellular Therapies - A Workshop.” Dr. Somerman is the principal NIH representative on the forum. NIH representatives include directors and program staff from NIDCR (the NIH team leader this year); National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (the NIH team leader next year); National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
NIDCR Hosts Orofacial Clefting Workshop
On September 6 and 7, NIDCR hosted a workshop in Bethesda, Maryland, on gene-environment interactions in orofacial clefting. The workshop brought together developmental biologists, geneticists, clinicians, epidemiologists, representatives from patient advocacy and professional associations, and others to examine the interplay of genes and environmental exposures in the etiology of orofacial clefting. The attendees discussed gaps in knowledge and considered topics for future research. The workshop was convened in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
NIDCR Proposes New Initiatives for FY 2018
Each year, NIDCR program staff propose new research initiatives to the National Advisory Dental and Craniofacial Research Council, and many proposed initiatives from previous years have become funding opportunities. In August, NIDCR asked the public for comments about five research initiatives that have been proposed for FY 2018. In January and May, two of these five research initiatives were presented to the Council, and in September, three additional research initiatives for FY 2018 were presented to Council : mechanisms of oral HIV vaccine-induced immunity; the role of the nervous system in craniofacial bones; and the role of the oral microbiome in oral HIV pathogenesis, vaccines, and host immunity. In addition to the research initiatives, a research career development initiative was presented to Council in September. See the presentations on the NIH videocast of the last Council meeting.
NIH asked NIH-funded scientists to submit their best images for a contest, and in June, NIH unveiled their new Flickr gallery of 42 scientific images from NIH grantees and intramural investigators. Nearly half of the winning images were provided by NIDCR grantees. On the NIDCR website homepage section called Science Spotlight, NIDCR provides easy access to 19 of the selected NIDCR grantee scientific images.
The centralized NIH Flickr image service enables the public to use the images as long as they credit the source. This image of salivary stem/progenitor cells was entered into the contest by Danielle Wu, PhD, a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) postdoctoral fellow at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She works in the NIDCR-supported lab of Mary C. Farach-Carson, PhD.
Two Temporomandibular Disorder Meetings Discuss State of the Science
Two meetings were held this summer for experts to describe and discuss the state of the science regarding temporomandibular disorder research. On June 16, NIDCR leadership participated in the MDEpinet TMJ Patient RoundTable, which was organized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the TMJ Association to convene clinicians, temporomandibular disease patients and patient advocates, industry representatives, and NIH, FDA, and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality representatives to discuss TMJ implant performance, surgical outcomes, and adverse events. The meeting was held at FDA headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. Dr. Somerman presented “NIDCR TMJ and Pain Research” and NIDCR Acting Deputy Director John Kusiak, PhD, summed up the discussions by proposing future research directions.
On September 11 to 13 in Bethesda, Maryland, directors and other representatives from NIH, other federal agency officials, scientists, clinicians, and patients took part in the Eighth Scientific Meeting of The TMJ Association—“How Can Precision Medicine Be Applied to Temporomandibular Disorders and Its Comorbidities.” This meeting explored how precision medicine strategies, such as pharmacogenomics approaches, might be used to inform the management of temporomandibular disorder and associated conditions. Several NIH directors, including Dr. Somerman, spoke at the three-day meeting, which was supported by a grant from NIDCR. In addition, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health also contributed funds for the meeting.
NIH Publishes Several Articles about NIDCR Director
This summer NIH published three articles and a video about Dr. Somerman. Her perspective on the importance of conducting oral health research with older adults was described in an article called “NIH Research Addresses Aging Issues and Disparities in Oral Health,” which appeared in the summer issue of NIH Medline Plus magazine. On June 22, an article about Dr. Somerman’s career path and her advice for the next generation of women in science was published in the Women Scientists in Action section of the NIH Women in Biomedical Careers website.
Later in the summer, Dr. Somerman was interviewed about the role that physical activity plays in her daily life. On July 29, the National Institute on Aging published a video interview called “Jogging Relieves My Stress,” which is meant to inspire people to exercise. The video is promoted as part of a playlist called “NIH Directors Share Their Exercise Stories.” On August 12, an article about Dr. Somerman’s passion for running and exercising outdoors was published in the NIH Record. The article was called “NIDCR Director Hits Ground Running.”
James Melvin, DDS, PhD, Directs Dental Clinical Research Fellowship Program
James E. Melvin, DDS, PhD, chief of the Secretory Mechanisms and Dysfunction Section in NIDCR’s Division of Intramural Research, was NIDCR’s acting deputy scientific director from April 2015 until August 2016. Dr. Melvin will now devote more energy to the NIDCR Dental Clinical Research Fellowship Program, which he revitalized several years ago during his tenure as clinical director from 2010 to 2015. Before joining NIDCR, Melvin was professor of pharmacology and physiology in the Center for Oral Biology, School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Rochester in New York.
Matthew P. Hoffman, BDS, PhD, who is chief of the Matrix and Morphogenesis Section in the Laboratory of Cell and Developmental Biology (LCDB) in NIDCR’s Division of Intramural Research, has been appointed the Division’s deputy scientific director. Hoffman became an NIDCR postdoctoral fellow in 1994, staff scientist in 2000, tenure-track investigator in 2004, senior investigator in 2011, and deputy branch chief in LCDB in 2015. Hoffman earned a BDS from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1986 and a PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of Rochester in 1994.
NIDCR Dental Clinical Research Fellow Andrea Burke, DMD, PhD, is featured in the September/October issue of the NIH Catalyst, a periodical about intramural research. “Rare Ambition” describes what inspired Dr. Burke to pursue training in translational research at NIDCR after completing her residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery in 2013.
“Here at the NIH, you can find the world’s expert in a rare disease just down the hall,” said Dr. Burke. “Or, if you are fortunate like me, you can work in a lab dedicated to the rare disease.”
Her research focuses on fibrous dysplasia and other rare bone diseases and she works with senior investigators Michael Collins, MD, chief of the Skeletal Disorders and Mineral Homeostasis Section, and Pam Robey, PhD, chief of the Craniofacial and Skeletal Diseases Branch.
In July, the NIH Fellows Committee, the Scientific Directors, and the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education announced that three NIDCR trainees were among 206 recipients of the 2017 NIH Fellows Awards for Research Excellence (FARE). The FARE awardees are Belinda Hauser, PhD, of the Laboratory of Cell and Development Biology (LCDB), pictured here, Brian DuChez, PhD, also of LCDB, and Zulfeqhar Syed, PhD, of the Oral and Pharyngeal Cancer Branch. This competition provides recognition for the outstanding scientific research performed by intramural postdoctoral fellows.
NIH selected two dental students to take part in the 2016-2017 Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP). The MRSP trains the most promising future dentists, physicians, and veterinarians in research methods. John Le, a student at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, is working in the laboratory of NIDCR Clinical Director Janice Lee, DMD, MD, MS. Jason Berglund, a student from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, is working in the laboratory of Michael Collins, MD, chief of the Skeletal Disorders and Mineral Homeostasis Section. Mr. Berglund was a 2015 NIDCR Summer Dental Student Award recipient.
Cambridge University Communications Team Releases Interview Podcast of NIDCR Postdoc Jennifer Symonds, PhD
A Cambridge University communications team called The Naked Scientists recently interviewed NIDCR/LCDB postdoctoral fellow Jennifer Symonds, PhD, and on July 10, they published a 10-minute interview podcast called “Building Glands.” The Naked Scientists are a team of scientists, doctors, and communicators who make science radio programs for the BBC so that the public can understand science.
In 2014 and 2015, Lilliam Pinzón, DDS, MPH, worked with HIV-positive children in Mexico for her fellowship with Fogarty’s Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars, which provides a year-long mentored clinical research experience abroad for postdoctoral fellows and predoctoral scholars. NIDCR supported Pinzón’s fellowship last year, and before that, NIDCR provided mentored research career development awards that funded her clinical translational observational study in California. Dr. Pinzón now has academic posts at the University of California San Francisco and the University of Utah.
Learn about current NIDCR job opportunities by looking at the Job Openings section of NIDCR’s website and by following us on Twitter and LinkedIn. We have two tenure-track positions for scientists in the Division of Intramural Research. See the advertisements for the immunologist and the mineralized tissue (bone, cartilage, or tooth) biologist. Review of applications will begin in October.
We also have two openings in the Division of Extramural Research. Apply by October 12 to manage the NIDCR Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, and Data Science Extramural Grant Program or to manage the NIDCR Salivary Biology and Immunology Extramural Grant Program.
On June 16, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced nearly $156 million in funding to support 420 health centers in 47 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to increase access to integrated oral health care services and improve oral health outcomes for Health Center Program patients. This funding enables health centers to expand integrated oral health care services and increase the number of patients served. With these awards from the Health Resources and Services Administration, health centers across the country will increase their oral health service capacity by hiring approximately 1,600 new dentists, dental hygienists, assistants, aides, and technicians to treat nearly 785,000 new patients.
Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, the U.S. Surgeon General, has launched an opioids campaign to raise awareness about opioid addiction. He is encouraging dentists, physicians, nurses, and other health care providers to be leaders in combating the epidemic, and he is conducting a nationwide tour to talk to community leaders and those affected by opioid addiction.
“We have to stop treating addiction as a moral failing and start seeing it for what it is: a chronic disease that must be treated with urgency and compassion,” said Surgeon General Murthy.
In July, NIH announced $55 million in awards in fiscal year 2016 to build the foundational partnerships and infrastructure needed to launch the Cohort Program of President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI). The PMI Cohort Program is a landmark longitudinal research effort that aims to engage one million or more U.S. participants to improve our ability to prevent and treat disease based on individual differences in lifestyle, environment, and genetics. The awards will support a Data and Research Support Center, Participant Technologies Center, and network of Healthcare Provider Organizations. With these awards, NIH is on course to begin initial enrollment into the PMI Cohort Program in 2016, with the aim of meeting its enrollment goal by 2020.
At the Cancer Moonshot Summit, which was held in June at Howard University in Washington, DC, Vice President Joseph Biden described new public and private sector actions to double the rate of progress toward a cure for cancer. Of the new public sector actions, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) revealed seven new NCI-related activities to accelerate the pace of research and the advances it brings for patients around the world.
On September 21, NIH announced awards of $157 million for research on environmental influences on child health (ECHO). The ECHO program will investigate how exposure to a range of environmental factors from conception through early childhood influences the health of children and adolescents. The awards will build the infrastructure and capacity for the ECHO program to support multiple, synergistic longitudinal studies that extend and expand existing cohort studies of mothers and their children. Emily Harris, PhD, MPH, chief of NIDCR's Translational Genomics Research Branch, is NIDCR’s representative on the ECHO Working Group. NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, said, “ECHO will help us better understand the factors that contribute to optimal health in children.”
NIH Studies Zika Virus Risks and Possible Vaccine and Treatments
Over the past few months, NIH has issued several news announcements regarding studies of the Zika Virus, including a multi-country study on health risks, development of a vaccine, and identification of compounds that show promise as treatments.
NIH Names Diana Bianchi, MD, Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
On August 25, NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, announced the selection of Diana W. Bianchi, MD, as director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). She will join NIH in October from the Floating Hospital for Children and Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where she serves as the founding executive director of the Mother Infant Research Institute and vice chair for pediatric research.
On July 28, Dr. Collins announced the selection of Joshua A. Gordon, MD, PhD, as the director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Most recently, Dr. Gordon was an associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and a research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
The 1997-2012 Clinical Research Training Program, which evolved into the NIH Medical Research Scholars Program in 2012, was an NIH intramural initiative for medical and dental students to enhance their interest in clinical research careers. During its 16-year run, the program provided year-long mentored clinical or translational research opportunities for 340 medical and dental students, chosen from 1,300 applicants. At a time when the number of clinician-scientists is declining, the study indicates that the program helped shape the careers of many research-oriented medical and dental students. Of the 130 survey respondents, 84 indicated that they were conducting research and 74 of these researchers were in faculty positions at academic medical centers.
On September 16, in an effort to make information about clinical trials widely available to the public, HHS issued a final rule specifying requirements for registering and reporting summary results information to ClinicalTrials.gov. The new rule expands the legal requirements for submitting registration and results information for certain clinical trials involving FDA-regulated drug, biological, and device products. At the same time, NIH issued a complementary policy for registering and submitting summary results information to ClinicalTrials.gov for all NIH-funded clinical trials, including those not subject to the final rule.
On August 11, NICHD reported that scientists had identified the first gene on a sex chromosome that could cause osteogenesis imperfecta. The study also provided information on how the genetic defect impairs the healthy formation of bones. Before the NICHD- and NIAMS-funded study identified an x-linked form of osteogenesis imperfecta, the only known forms of the disease were found to arise from genes on the autosomal, or non-sex, chromosomes.
The causes of Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the glands that produce tears and saliva, have been somewhat elusive, but both environmental and genetic factors are thought to be involved. Among environmental factors, viral infections have long been suspected to play a role, and now, two new studies led by NIDCR scientists Ilias Alevizos, DMD, MMSc, and Melodie L. Weller, PhD, provide evidence for the involvement of Epstein-Barr virus and Hepatitis delta virus, respectively. By identifying the mechanisms by which these viruses target the function of tear and salivary glands, the findings offer new therapeutic strategies for combating the syndrome.
In June, the NIH Director’s Blog described an award-winning image from NIDCR’s grantee Paul Trainor, PhD, and his postdoc Shachi Bhatt, PhD, of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, MO. The image was one of the winners of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2015 BioArt competition. Trainor’s group studies head and face development, especially the pathways for formation of cleft lip and palate.
“Detailed knowledge of normal developmental processes forms a critical foundation for research on birth defects and other diseases affecting the development of these organ systems,” said Dr. Collins in the blog post called ‘Snapshots of Life: Development in Exquisite Detail.’ He said that “Researchers are pushing ahead to understand the developmental complexity that underlies cleft lip and palate in hopes of learning how to prevent it.”
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