NIDCR Requests Input on Proposed Research Initiatives for FY 2018

Dear Colleagues:

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As part of the budget planning process for Fiscal Year 2018, NIDCR is identifying topical themes for development into research initiatives. During this process, we welcome input from our scientific advisory boards, the extramural community, interested organizations, and the public at large.


What are Initiatives?

Initiatives are a vehicle used by the Institutes and Centers to communicate future research goals to NIH, the Department of Health and Human Services, and Congress. NIDCR begins the initiative development process each year by identifying broad research topic areas, or themes. We then develop a specific initiative proposal for each theme, taking into consideration the input received. Themes identified for FY 2018 are listed below.

Please remember that initiatives are not a complete picture of the Institute’s planned research portfolio for the year indicated, nor do they signal that themes highlighted the previous year have been abandoned. Several initiatives from last year have become formal funding opportunities and are posted on NIDCR’s website​. Others are still under development. Proposed FY 2018 Initiatives will be integrated into this larger landscape as they are considered for funding.


How can you provide input?

Please send your comments and suggestions related to these specific theme areas directly to us at If you want to suggest additional topic areas, or comment on the process for developing research initiatives, please send those suggestions to the same email address. Please submit all comments no later than Friday, September 9, 2016.


Thank you for your interest and input. I look forward to hearing from you.


Martha J. Somerman, D.D.S., Ph.D.
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research


Proposed NIDCR FY 2018 Research Themes (alphabetical by title)


Immunotherapy Strategies to Target Head and Neck Cancers

Nearly 49,000 new cases of Head and Neck Cancers (HNCs) are diagnosed each year in the U.S.  The 5-year survival rate for individuals with HNC is relatively low at approximately 50% and has improved only marginally during the past few decades. The impact of current chemotherapies on HNC is limited by resistance to therapy, disease recurrence, and damage to normal cells and tissues. Furthermore, current treatments including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy often lead to side effects that reduce the quality of life for HNC patients. Immunotherapy is a targeted treatment approach that uses a person’s own immune system to fight cancer by mobilizing immune cells to specifically identify and eliminate cancer cells. However, cancer cells are adept at escaping the surveillance of the immune system and new approaches are required to improve the effectiveness of immunotherapies. One approach to improving the immune cell response is to inhibit the proteins that normally inactivate immune cells, a process called immune checkpoint inhibitor blockade. Advances in genomics and high throughput screening methods have opened the door to identifying molecular abnormalities (e.g. genetic changes) and aberrant signaling pathways specific to cancer cells. Some of these genetic changes in cancer cells can trigger the immune system to kill or clear the cancer cells. These technical advances have created opportunities for identifying HNC cell specific antigens, called neoantigens, that can then be used to develop targeted therapies that are less likely to kill or damage normal cells in the body. The primary goal of this initiative is to encourage basic and preclinical studies to identify and test HNC associated neoantigens as potential immunotherapy targets, alone or in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitor blockade that can then be used as effective therapeutic agents in the treatment of HNCs.


Implementation Science and Oral Health 

Implementation science is focused on identifying, understanding, and overcoming barriers to the adoption of evidence-based interventions in patient care. The lag time between evidence from research and adoption into practice is related to many factors, such as low demand, desire of patients and/or practitioners to continue old interventions, and lack of infrastructure to adopt the new intervention. The goal of this initiative is to encourage studies aimed at reducing the time between establishment of the evidence-base for interventions and their widespread uptake and adoption. Another element of this initiative is understanding the need to reduce the use of strategies and procedures that are no longer supported by the evidence, are potentially harmful, or have been prematurely widely adopted.

Advances in implementation science have been made in other fields such as treatments for cancer and substance abuse; there is an opportunity to address the unique aspects of dentistry in this science field. This initiative will develop implementation strategies tailored for use in dental care and oral health settings.


Mechanisms of Oral HIV Vaccine-induced Immunity 

HIV/AIDS remains a major global public health problem. Approximately 50,000 new infections were diagnosed in the United States in 2014 and two million new infections worldwide. One of the highest priority areas in HIV prevention is the development of safe and effective oral prophylactic vaccines that protect against HIV acquisition. Despite recent advances, a protective HIV vaccine has yet to be developed. Multiple research gaps exist, including our limited knowledge of how immune cells produce protective anti-HIV antibodies after oral vaccination. This initiative encourages basic, translational, and pre-clinical research to 1) identify the genetic and immune mechanisms that regulate oral immune cell maturation to produce protective anti-HIV antibodies; 2) study the interactions between oral innate and cellular immunity that enhance the production of anti-HIV neutralizing antibodies; 3) study the biological function of these anti-HIV antibodies; and 4) test new oral prophylactic HIV vaccine candidates and strategies designed to trigger protective and long lasting immunity. These critical areas of research will be key to the development of safe and effective oral HIV vaccines to protect against the spread of HIV/AIDS.


Role of the Nervous System in Craniofacial Bones

In adults, bone tissue is constantly broken down and rebuilt during the process of homeostasis. The nervous system controls this process via longer range hormonal regulation and local innervation of the bone microenvironment. The nervous system is known to play a key role in the development and regeneration of craniofacial bone; however it is not clear how the nervous system functions in fully developed (adult) craniofacial bones in both health and disease. The goal of this initiative is to encourage research on the interactions between the nervous system and the dental and craniofacial skeletal complex. Understanding the nervous system’s role in the maintenance of mature craniofacial bone, will bolster efforts in regeneration and repair of the dental and craniofacial skeleton. Knowledge about the craniofacial neuroskeletal relationship could also lead to effective and targeted approaches to treat bone loss from periodontal disease or osteonecrosis of the jaw.


Role of the Oral Microbiome in Oral HIV Pathogenesis, Vaccines, and Host Immunity

The oral microbiome is a dynamic community of self-maintained microorganisms that are essential to preserve human oral and systemic health. Microbiomes are found throughout the body, including the gut and oral cavity. The gut microbiome has been linked to changes in HIV pathogenesis and host immunity. The oral microbiome is also implicated in changes in HIV pathogenesis and host immunity, however, these processes are not as well understood. The goal of this initiative is to encourage basic and translational research on the role of the oral microbiome in oral HIV pathogenesis, oral immunity, and oral prophylactic HIV vaccine efficacy. Additional research in these areas will help identify new preventive and therapeutic strategies for modulating the oral microbiome to decrease HIV pathogenesis and improve oral vaccine efficacy and immunity to HIV.​



Please note, when identifying themes for potential funding initiatives, NIDCR takes many factors into account. These factors include: scientific opportunity, alignment with the mission and goals of the Institute’s strategic plans, robustness of the existing portfolio in a particular theme area, both currently and in the year under consideration, and current budgetary climate.​

Last Reviewed
July 2018

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