In recent years, faculty at the UCLA School of Dentistry have been expanding the traditional boundaries of dentistry through groundbreaking multidisciplinary research that has led to major advances in everything from stem cell science to saliva diagnostics.
Now, a $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research will allow the school to continue these pioneering efforts by creating a comprehensive research training program to help cultivate the next generation of dentist–scientists and oral health researchers.
The grant — now in its fourth cycle and third renewal since 1997 — establishes a pipeline that transforms dentists into leaders in science and research who will advance the oral health field and the dental profession. And while prior grant cycles allowed only U.S. citizens and permanent residents to participate in the training programs, the new five-year grant for the first time enables foreign dentists to benefit from the NIH funds.
"This grant renewal is exciting because it allows us to open up the trainee positions to an international pool of dentists," said Dr. David Wong, the school's associate dean of research and the Felix and Mildred Yip Endowed Professor in the division of oral biology and medicine. "This grant echoes the overall culture and environment of the UCLA School of Dentistry, as we are known throughout the world as a leader in academic excellence, and many talented foreign dentists come here to obtain a Ph.D. or do postdoctoral training."
The grant-funded program includes a number of training tracks, including a dentist–scientist program designed for dentists pursuing a doctoral degree, who can subsequently go on to postdoctoral work with the intention of becoming research-committed faculty members. Additional tracks are designed for individuals pursuing a Ph.D. or postdoctoral training and focus on grooming future oral health-researchers.
Trainees accepted into the programs will be mentored by current UCLA School of Dentistry faculty members in four areas in which the school has centers of excellence: oral cancer and cancer biology; bone biology and bioengineering; microbiology and immunology; and stem cell and regenerative medicine.
"This grant is an unprecedented opportunity for dentists who have the desire to go on to become researchers and scientists," said Dr. No-Hee Park, dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry. "Some of our past trainees who have come out of previous NIH grants are now full-time faculty members whose work is impacting the oral health field on a regional, national and even international level."
The UCLA School of Dentistry is dedicated to improving the oral health of the people of California, the nation and the world through its teaching, research, patient care and public service initiatives. The School provides education and training programs that develop leaders in dental education, research, the profession and the community; conducts research programs that generate new knowledge, promote oral health and investigate the cause, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of oral disease in an individualized disease-prevention and management model; and delivers patient-centered oral health care to the community and the state.