The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded NYU College of Dentistry (NYU Dentistry) a grant to establish a summer research program in oral health sciences. The program is designed to provide research opportunities to high school and undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds and to encourage them to pursue further studies or careers in oral health research.
Despite calls for greater diversity among the dental care workforce, less than 12% of U.S. dentists belong to underrepresented minority groups, according to the American Dental Association. The NIH – which “recognizes that achieving diversity in the biomedical research workforce is critical to the full realization of our national research goals” – is providing R25 grants to fund research programs aimed at increasing the diversity of the biomedical and clinical research personnel.
“Building a pipeline of more diverse oral health professionals needs to start well before students enroll in dental or graduate school,” says Dr. Lorel Burns, assistant professor of endodontics at NYU Dentistry and principal investigator of the NIDCR grant.
The five-year grant (R25 DE032528) of more than $566,000 will support a new nine-week summer research program called Research Education in Oral Health Sciences (REOHS). REOHS will provide mentorship and hands-on research experience to support the science and career advancement of students from backgrounds underrepresented in the biomedical sciences and oral health professions.
Beginning in the summer of 2023, REOHS will enroll 8-10 high school and undergraduate students, who will receive a summer stipend. REOHS participants will have the opportunity to work in NYU Dentistry research laboratories focused on pain, bone and tooth development, obesity and tissue regeneration. NYU Dentistry researchers including Drs. Rodrigo Lacruz, Nigel Bunnett, Lukasz Witek, Anna Di Gregorio, Farnaz Shamsi, Nicola Partridge, Yi Ye, Rajesh Khanna and May Khanna will serve as faculty research mentors.
“Early exposure to research has the potential to increase student interest in health sciences careers. We look forward to cultivating a new generation of scientists who are excited about advancing oral health research,” said Dr. Lacruz, a professor of molecular pathobiology and also principal investigator of the NIDCR grant, whose lab focuses on the development and mineralization of tooth enamel..
Eligible students can enroll in the first cohort of the program in Spring 2023. REOHS will also recruit participants who are alumni of NYU Dentistry’s Saturday Academy, a preparatory program for local high school students that also aims to increase diversity in the health professions by giving students hands-on experience learning about dentistry and the college application process. Saturday Academy was founded in 2012 by Dr. Burns and Dr. Cheryline Pezzullo—both dental students at NYU at the time—and nearly 350 students have graduated from the program over the past decade.
“We are excited to welcome some of our Saturday Academy graduates back to NYU Dentistry and provide them with another opportunity to gain valuable experience on their path to careers in oral health,” added Dr. Burns.