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 education program in the oral health sciences. The program is designed to provide research opportunities for 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 increased diversity of the oral health workforce, less than 12% of U.S. dentists are from 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”—provides R25 grants to fund research education programs that aim to enhance the diversity of the biomedical and clinical research workforce.
“Building a pipeline of more diverse oral health professionals needs to start well before students apply to dental or graduate school,” said Dr. Lorel Burns, assistant professor of endodontics at NYU Dentistry and principal investigator on the NIDCR grant.
The five-year grant (R25 DE032528) of more than $566,000 will support a new, nine-week summer research education program called Research Education in Oral Health Sciences (REOHS). REOHS will provide mentorship and hands-on research experience to support the scientific and career development of students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the biomedical sciences and oral health professions.
Beginning in the summer of 2023, REOHS will enroll 8-10 high school and undergraduate student participants, who will receive a stipend for the summer. REOHS participants will have the opportunity to work in NYU Dentistry research labs 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 students’ interest in health science careers. We look forward to cultivating a new generation of scientists who are excited about furthering oral health research,” said Dr. Lacruz, professor of molecular pathobiology and also a principal investigator on the NIDCR grant, whose lab focuses on the development and mineralization of tooth enamel.
Eligible undergraduates can apply for the program’s first cohort in the spring of 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 established in 2012 by Dr. Burns and Dr. Cheryline Pezzullo—at the time, both dental students at NYU—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 a new opportunity to gain valuable experience on their path to a career in oral health,” added Dr. Burns.