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Goal of dental school’s Research Day: Turning discovery into health12 min read

February 21, 2024

Goal of dental school’s Research Day: Turning discovery into health12 min read

Shawn Hallet, a dual DDS-PhD student, discusses his research, "A RUNX2-FGFR3 signaling axis controls postnatal synchondrosis growth and ossification" with faculty judge Livia Tenuta during the afternoon poster session.
Shawn Hallet, a dual DDS-PhD student, discusses his research, “A RUNX2-FGFR3 signaling axis controls postnatal synchondrosis growth and ossification” with faculty judge Livia Tenuta during the afternoon poster session.

Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb. 21, 2024 – For the second year in a row, a record number of research posters covered a wide-ranging variety of scientific research by students, postdoctoral trainees, staff and faculty at the annual Research Day held by the School of Dentistry on Feb. 15.

The 160 posters provided insight into basic and translational science in areas such as cancer biology, tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and skeletal biology, while also exploring behavioral science related to public health or educational methods. Visitors to the morning and afternoon poster sessions at the Michigan League might learn about fibrosis in salivary glands receiving stereotactic body radiation therapy at one poster, then turn to the next row of posters to find the results of dentists surveyed about new requirements for implicit bias training.

In-between the poster sessions, the keynote address this year was delivered at the School of Dentistry by Dr. Rena D’Souza, Director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

D’Souza provided an overview of the institute and some of its many initiatives that provide funding to researchers around the country, including the U-M School of Dentistry. NIDCR’s  annual budget of over $520 million supports basic, translational, and clinical research in areas of oral cancer, orofacial pain, tooth decay, periodontal disease, salivary gland dysfunction, craniofacial development and the oral complications of systemic diseases. D’Souza is an internationally recognized researcher and has authored over 150 publications and book chapters in the areas of craniofacial development, matrix biology and tissue regeneration for over 30 years.

Keynote speaker Dr. Rena D’Souza, Director of NIDCR, tours the afternoon poster session with Dean Jacques Nör (right) and Vesa Kaartinen, associate dean for research.
Keynote speaker Dr. Rena D’Souza, Director of NIDCR, tours the afternoon poster session with Dean Jacques Nör (right) and Vesa Kaartinen, associate dean for research.

D’Souza shared some of the guiding principles of NIH leadership, including the overarching tenet that the institutes’ work is not complete by only breaking new ground in science. The ultimate goal, she said, must be to help all people live long and healthy lives, encompassed by the expression, “Turning discovery into health.” Patients must be partners in research and discovery, while income, age, race, ethnicity, geographic location and disability should not be barriers to participating in, or benefiting from, research advances.

One cause for concern, D’Souza said, is that polls show that Americans are losing trust in science and scientists since the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the implications: People who trust science are more likely to follow the expert guidance of scientists and medical experts for procedures such as flu vaccines; and different levels of trust across the population could result in the uneven spread of the benefits of science across society.

A crucial goal in moving forward in the healthcare research community, D’Souza said, is having an open and proactive approach to sharing data so that all researchers can more efficiently examine the current standards in any particular area of scientific query as they design new ways to advance it. Research Day is an example of that concept of sharing and collaborating within the research community.

2023 Research Day Awards

Faculty judges visited each researcher during the poster sessions and rated the quality of research, poster presentation and researchers’ oral summary of their work. Top winners are highlighted below, along with three other annual awards presented by the Research Office. Complete results are posted on the Research Day website here.

SCADA (Student Competition for Advancing Dental Research and its Application)

• Sindhu Nagammai Kannappan, a third-year dental student, received the SCADA Award for her research, “A Systematic Review of the Development of Non-Carious Cervical Lesions Due to Occlusal Factors.” Faculty mentor: Geoff Gerstner. The SCADA award is sponsored by the American Association for Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research (AADOCR) and Dentsply Sirona, a dental supply company. Each dental school in the United States and Puerto Rico is invited to select one student to compete in this research program. Kannappan will represent the school and present her research at the annual meeting and exhibition of the AADOCR in New York, N.Y., in March 2025. The Dentsply Sirona Student Research Program was launched in 1959 as a joint venture between Dentsply International and the American Dental Association. The program has grown and evolved into a global research program, including 10 national programs worldwide across 21 countries. In 2016, Dentsply International merged with Sirona Dental Systems to become Dentsply Sirona.

Sindhu Nagammai Kannappan (left) and  Lauren Okafor
Sindhu Nagammai Kannappan (left) and  Lauren Okafor

AADOCR Travel Award

• Lauren Okafor, a third-year dental student, received the AADOCR Travel Award for attending the 2024 IADR/AADOCR annual meeting and exhibition in New Orleans, Louisiana, in March, where they will present their research: “Cis/Non-Cis Members of the LGBTQ+ Community and Oral Health Care.” Faculty mentor: Marita Inglehart.

Category 1: Clinical Research, Public Health, Behavioral and Educational Research

1st Place among DDS, Hygiene, Masters and Undergrad students – Lauren Okafor, third-year dental student. Research Title: “Cis/Non-Cis Members of the LGBTQ+ Community and Oral Health Care.”  Faculty mentor: Marita Inglehart.

1st Place among PhD Students (DDS/PhD), Postdoctoral Trainees and Staff – Eduardo Caleme, Postdoc. Research Title: “Multimodal Machine Learning Models for Diagnosing and Predicting Progression of Tmporomandibular Degenerative Joint Disease.” Faculty mentor: Lucia Cevidanes.

Category 2:  Basic Science Research and Translational Science

1st Place among DDS, Hygiene, Masters and Undergrad students – Danielle DeCesaris, a Master of Public Health student. Research Title: “Effect of dextranase on nanoparticle penetration into exopolysaccharide-rich Streptococcus mutans biofilms.” Faculty mentor: Livia Tenuta.

1st Place (Tie) among PhD Students (DDS/PhD) and Postdoctoral Trainees and Staff – Igor Paulino Mendes Soares, a visiting scholar at the dental school.  Research Title: “Hesperetin-laden composite fibrous scaffolds for modulating dentinogenesis and the inflammatory response in vital pulp therapy.” Faculty mentor: Marco Bottino. Also 1st Place: Hiroki Ueharu, a Postdoc. Research Title: “Augmentation of BMP signaling in cranial NCCs develops ectopic cartilage in the face through elevated Gata6.” Faculty mentor: Yuji Mishina.

Dental Hygiene

• 1st Place Original Research Award – Rita Ann Hannosh and Brittney Marie Nasir, fourth-year Dental Hygiene students. Research Title: “Stress Management Techniques for Dental Hygiene Students.” Faculty mentor: Iwonka Eagle.

Other Research Day Awards

Renan Dal Fabbro (right) with Vesa Kaartinen, associate dean for research.

•  The Janice E. Berry Prize for Excellence in Research was presented to Dr. Renan Dal Fabbro, a postdoctoral research fellow in the lab of Dr. Marco Bottino in the Department of Cariology, Restorative Sciences and Endodontics. Dal Fabbro was cited for his scientific intuition, hard work, independence and teamwork “in the frontiers of dental and regenerative medicine research.” Beyond his important research into tissue regeneration, his scholarly output in esteemed journals and skills in mentoring lab colleagues were noted. The family of Berry, a longtime U-M and dental school staff member who died in 2016, created the $1,000 award, also known as Jan’s Prize, to recognize a full-time researcher who may be currently experiencing a financial hardship. Berry was well-known for her steady and compassionate encouragement and support of researchers at the school, including an understanding that research sometimes creates financial hardships. The recipient of Jan’s Prize must have demonstrated excellence in research, teaching, mentoring, service and leadership. Jan Berry’s husband John Copely attended the Research Day award presentation.

Lucia Cevidanes with Vesa Kaartinen, associate dean for research.

• Dr. Lucia Cevidanes, the Drs. Thomas M. and Doris Graber Endowed Professor of Dentistry in the Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry, received the Distinguished Faculty Mentoring Award. It recognizes faculty who consistently impart their research knowledge and experience with students and scholars in areas of clinical, basic science and-or translational research. An orthodontics resident who nominated Cevidanes recalled what she told a group of first-year residents: “Do not call me Dr. Cevidanes, call me Lucia. We are colleagues!” That sentiment “truly represents the persona of Lucia, who is down to earth, humble, and always supporting all residents. She has a gift to make you feel heard, supported, and significant,” the resident said. Another nominator praised Cevidanes this way: “From the very beginning, she has exhibited an unwavering commitment to my development, providing continuous support and guidance that has been instrumental in shaping my academic and career trajectory. Her insights have significantly contributed to the advancement of my research projects, creating an environment where innovation and intellectual curiosity thrive. In the professional sphere, Dr. Cevidanes has played a pivotal role in connecting me with relevant opportunities, networking events, and industry professionals. Her extensive network and willingness to facilitate connections have been instrumental in broadening my horizons and opening doors to new possibilities.”

Harrison Chang (left) with Vesa Kaartinen, associate dean for research.

• Sywe-Ren “Harrison” Chang, a research lab specialist for Dr. Brian Clarkson, professor emeritus in the CRSE department, received the Research Staff Recognition Award. Clarkson’s nomination noted they have worked together for 30 years, during which time Chang managed the lab, ensured the progress of research for approximately $12 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and other sources, and supervised gradate and dental students working in the lab. Clarkson praised Chang’s innate ability to work independently, his work ethic and determination, and his ability to work with and mentor researchers and staff from around the world. He is well-known to other faculty doing research at the dental school as well. Said one nominator: “Quality research is dependent on several factors including appropriate experimental design, unbiased data collection and analysis which are dependent on the integrity of the person performing the experiment. Harrison has that integrity, and I would never doubt the results of any experiment that he had performed.”

A complete list of the 2024 Research Day Awards is posted on the Research Day webpage here. It also lists the dentistry- and research-related companies who attend the event as exhibitors and-or provided sponsorship and advertising to support it.

Research Day is organized by the school’s Office of Research, under the direction of Dr. Vesa Kaartinen, the Dr. Roy H. Roberts Professor of Dentistry and Associate Dean for Research, with support from the school’s chapter of the American Student Dental Association.

Faculty judge Sandra Stuhr (right) provides input for fourth-year dental student Seema Sabbagh during the morning poster session.
Faculty judge James Simmer learns details of a research project completed by Kamaldeen Akorede, an undergraduate student who will be an incoming first-year dental student this summer.
Fourth-year dental student Emma King (left) explains to faculty member Elisabeta Karl about her Pathways Program project examining COVID-19’s impact on at-risk children.
Undergraduate student Sriya Neelam’s project mentor, faculty member Romesh Nalliah (center), is among a group listening to Neelam explain her research on dental graduates who move to different professions.
Fourth-year dental student Oluwatobi Dauda discusses her research on dental problems seen in Michigan hospital emergency rooms with faculty member Carlos González-Cabezas.


The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral healthcare education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu.  Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at dentistry.communications@umich.edu, or (734) 615-1971.