The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) has announced 4 awards totaling approximately $1 million each per year for up to 8 years, supporting outstanding researchers in their pursuit of high-risk, high-reward projects that may enhance our understanding of dental, oral, and craniofacial diseases and conditions.
The Sustaining Outstanding Achievement in Research (SOAR) Awards will go to mid-career investigators with outstanding records of productivity to provide them with stable funding to pursue potentially transformative research programs. This year’s awards will benefit projects in skeletal tissue regeneration, craniofacial malformations, head and neck cancer, and links between viral infections and oral inflammation.
“To ensure the long-term stability of the biomedical research enterprise, we must encourage successful, independent careers for early-stage investigators and retain them as they become more established,” said NIDCR director Martha Somerman, DDS, PhD. “The SOAR Awards will enable these outstanding investigators to continue their career trajectories while pursuing dental, oral, and craniofacial research projects that have the potential to break new ground and ultimately improve human health.”
NIDCR created the SOAR Awards in 2015 to sustain exceptional scientists through a challenging early established career phase when many researchers are at risk of leaving the biomedical workforce due to a hypercompetitive funding environment. NIDCR issued the first round of awards in 2016 with support to a pair of researchers, one focused on tooth regeneration, and the other on the human papilloma virus.
“We are delighted that this round of funding will support diverse areas of dental, oral, and craniofacial science,” said Lillian Shum, PhD, director of NIDCR’s Division of Extramural Research. “Instead of focusing on several short-term projects, as is typical in academia, each investigator will be able to combine their separate but related areas of interest into one larger research program that could significantly advance the field.”
This year’s NIDCR SOAR investigators include Samantha Brugmann, PhD, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She studies neural crest cells that give rise to the facial skeleton during development. Her work seeks to direct these cells to develop into skeletal tissues that can be used to surgically repair craniofacial malformations.
Gage Crump, PhD, of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, uses zebrafish models to unravel the developmental causes of congenital disorders of the head and face and understand how stem cells build, maintain, and repair bones in the head. Ultimately, the NIDCR believes, this knowledge could lead to regenerative medicine treatments for human craniofacial diseases.
Nisha D’Silva, BDS, MSD, PhD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, examines the molecular pathways that control the spread and recurrence of head and neck cancer. Her findings may ultimately enable clinicians to identify patients who will best respond to existing treatments and might also lead to new treatment strategies, according to NIDCR.
And, Pinghui Feng, PhD, of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, explores the link between human herpesviruses such as herpes simplex virus and Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus and chronic oral inflammation, which can cause gum disease. Understanding these molecular mechanisms, NIDCR says, may lead to therapies for oral and other inflammatory diseases.