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Squarize Wins Major Award from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Ann Arbor, MI — May 4, 2015 — An assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of 12 individuals nationwide, and among the first two dentists, to receive a prestigious award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program. 

Dr. Cristiane Squarize, an assistant professor in the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine, received the award which is designed to increase the number of faculty from diverse backgrounds who have the potential to reach positions of influence in academic medicine or dentistry, and who will serve as role models and be mentors to students with similar backgrounds.  Squarize and the other award recipients will each receive a $420,000 grant to support their research activities, career advancement and leadership development.

“I’m greatly honored to receive this prestigious award, and am grateful to both Dean Laurie McCauley and Dr. William Giannobile, who encouraged me to apply,” Squarize said.  Giannobile chairs the school’s Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine.

Best of Both Worlds

“To me, the award is the best of both worlds,” she said.  “Not only am I a faculty member and research team leader at one of the world’s great schools of dentistry, but now I am a part of a world-renowned organization, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, that actively promotes a culture of health and is transforming how oral health is provided to diverse groups of people.”

After submitting her application and documents about her scientific and academic background and research last year, Squarize later met with the award’s National Advisory Committee to discuss her work and future plans as well as answer questions from the 18-member committee.  Committee members are from the National Institutes of Health; multiple medical and cancer centers; renowned professors in public health, medicine and dentistry; executives of pharmaceutical companies and the head of research for the American Heart Association.

“It was an intense but rewarding meeting that gave me an opportunity to talk more about my background and research,” Squarize said.  “I also learned more from questions they asked me and developed a great network of peers that I can call upon when I need to.”

Squarize earned her dental degree in Campinas, Brazil, in 1995, and both a master’s degree and PhD in oral pathology from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2003 and 2005, respectively.  In 2001, she won the prestigious Edward Hatton Award from the International Association for Dental Research’s Brazilian division for her head and neck cancer research.  Prior to joining the School of Dentistry in 2010, she spent five years at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in Bethesda, Maryland, as a postdoctoral scholar studying oral and pharyngeal cancer.

Head and Neck Cancer Research

At U-M, Squarize’s laboratory is investigating how altered signaling pathways contribute to tumor development and progression as well as dictate stem cell function.  This includes, for example, the role that phosphatase and tensin homolog genes (PTEN) play in the development of many cancers, including those of the head and neck.  Found in nearly all body tissues, the tumor suppressor PTEN participates in stem cell control and tissue homeostasis in addition to blocking cancer cell division and metastasis.  When cells “don’t get this message,” uncontrolled cell growth results which can then lead to tumor formation and spreading.

“About 30 percent of patients with head and neck cancers don’t express PTEN,” Squarize said.  “In my laboratory we are investigating why this happens, why tumors progress and what can be done to possibly correct that so we can better treat patients.”  Squarize adds, “We want our research to lead to a better understanding of cancer formation and progression as well as identifying new biomarkers that someday will be used to develop personalized therapies.”

 

The Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, works to increase the number of faculty from historically disadvantaged backgrounds who can achieve senior rank in academic medicine or dentistry, and who will encourage and foster the development of succeeding classes of such physicians and dentists. For more information, visit www.amfdp.org.

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.