Dental School Holds Annual Research Day

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Last Thursday the entire dental school and most dental clinics were closed for one of the most widely anticipated events in the dental school calendar.  The Research and Clinical Excellence Day 2012 featured a variety of speakers—both faculty and students—talking about their careers and their research, a lunch in the gym with rows of research posters displaying student projects, and the presentation of various awards.  Cole Hall was filled to capacity for the duration of the event, honoring these achievements and underscoring the dental school’s emphasis on excellence in research.

“UCSF School of Dentistry has been the number one recipient of NIH funding in dental research for 20 years, and we plan on continuing that trend,” School of Dentistry Dean John Featherstone said in his opening remarks.

In his keynote address, the always entertaining and master elocutionist Dr. John Greenspan addressed the history of HIV research at UCSF and worldwide with a focus in his area of specialty, the oral manifestations of AIDS.  In the early years of the disease, oral candidiasis, Kaposi’s sarcoma and hairy leukoplakia were commonly found in HIV patients and indicated an imminent decline in their immune health.  Dr. Greenspan’s work included elucidation of these connections, especially the co-discovery with his wife, Deborah Greenspan, of hairy leukoplakia.

The Outstanding Clinician Award was then presented to Dr. Karin Vargervik, who spoke lovingly about her childhood on a farm in Norway.  Her cabin had no plumbing or electricity, and she walked an hour every day to get to school.  In such a remote place, books were her only access to knowledge.

“With books in the house, I could travel anywhere, to Africa, to Australia,” she said. “Without them, all I would have known was my little farm.”

Her subsequent career took her far beyond her forests and farm, moving from her education in orthodontics to a career as a researcher in craniofacial development. She returns to Norway every summer for two weeks to hike and swim with her family.

Many other presentations were impressive in their scientific rigor and the confidence of their delivery, especially in the case of the students who are new to this kind of endeavor.  The list of speakers included Chelsea Wong, Jonathan Hurng, Jolie Goodman, Diana Proctor, Jeremy Horst and Vagan Mushegyan. Each discussed their own research project, with topics ranging from oral hygiene in an Oakland middle school to the separate evolution of long-crowned teeth in various mammalian lineages.

The winner of the Faculty Research Lecturer Award for 2012 was Dr. Randall Kramer. His talk, entitled “Highway for Cancer Metastasis,” started with his earliest inspiration: “In high school we watched single- cell organisms moving around under the microscopes, and ever since then I’ve been interested in cell motility.”  His research includes how cancer cells bind to endothelial cells and then enter the blood stream, enabling metastasis.  He ended with a comical photo of the Greenspans dressed in cowboy attire for a Halloween party, bringing the speeches full circle.

The day concluded with the presentation of more awards.  Mentor of the Year Award was given to Ralph Marcucio.  Lab Assistant of the year went to Caleb Tam.  Students honored for research projects were post-grads Karen Lam, Wendy Yang and Jeremy Horst; grad students Joyce Sumi, Michael Le and Francis Yang; and pre-docs Shibani Rajadhyksha, Natalie LaRochelle and Chelsea Wong. Finally, the Ernest Newbrun Award for Research Excellence—in honor of Dr. Ernie Newbrun, who has been with UCSF since 1965 and was there to present the award himself—was given to second-year dental student Molly Hague.

The event was followed by a reception in the gym featuring tasty desserts, many congratulatory greetings and proud faces.

“I look forward to Research Day, not only for the great boxed lunches that bring us back to our Interview Day, but also to see the interesting dental research that is being done by our peers,” said third-year dental student Nicole Bartolome.