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TEAM grant renewal extends long-term research training

Genny Romanowicz, a joint DDS/PhD student, uses a flourescent microscope to examine a cross section of newly formed tissue on a mouse mandible as part of research funded by the TEAM grant.

Eric Madsen adds new media used for culturing human cells to tissue culture flasks in a ventilated fume hood in the lab of Dr. David Kohn. Supported by the TEAM grant, the joint DDS/PhD student is helping conduct bone regeneration research.

NIDCR approves extension for years 41-45

Ann Arbor, Mich., July 31, 2017-– A federally funded research training program, now in its 40th year at the School of Dentistry, has been renewed for another five years by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

The Institutional Training Program in Tissue Engineering and Regeneration provides an interdisciplinary research-intensive training environment for advanced degree candidates pursuing careers in the oral sciences, with a focus in the area of restoration of oral-craniofacial tissues. The students’ course work, research training and career development combine life sciences, engineering and clinical dentistry, with the students’ faculty mentors coming from various health science departments across the University of Michigan campus.

Known as the TEAM grant, for Tissue Engineering at Michigan, it provides $3 million over five years.  Each year, up to 11 researchers are competitively chosen for the program and stay in it from two to four years, depending on the requirements of their degree program. The three types of degrees supported by the grant are:
• A traditional PhD in the School of Dentistry Oral Health Sciences, College of Engineering Biomedical Engineering or Medical School Program in Biomedical Sciences.
• A joint DDS/PhD through the School of Dentistry or an MD/PhD through the Medical School.
• A Post-Doctoral Fellow Program through the Rackham Graduate School.

The importance of the TEAM grant program is its long-term success in preparing students and post-docs for research-intensive careers, said Dr. David Kohn, its director. Kohn, a professor in the dental school’s Department of Biologic and Materials Sciences and a professor of biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering, has been associated with the program for 25 years, and director since 2011. He said many of the program participants have gone on to be prominent leaders in research and higher education.

The NIDCR, under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health, closely tracks the outcomes for program participants. The most recent study, which looked at the last 15 years, showed that 86 percent of the 95 trainees were in research intensive careers, with most taking jobs in academic or industry settings.

“Many of these people are in very prominent academic positions now,” Kohn said. “About two-thirds of them are in dental schools or doing research that is in the mission of the NIDCR, so it’s a great return on the NIH’s investment.  This grant has produced people who have been department chairs all over the world.”

Kohn said the legacy of the program is not so much the specific research projects or papers, although the trainees have contributed to an impressive slate of high-end research. The more important legacy is that this training is a catalyst for helping early-career researchers find a path to an academic career that will yield important research results for many years to come.

The first 20 years of the training grant focused on dental materials, but the emphasis was changed 20 years ago when tissue engineering emerged as a strong new field.  TEAM researchers today investigate a wide array of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine therapies for restoration of oral-craniofacial tissues lost to caries, periodontal disease, trauma, congenital abnormalities or cancer. For example, researchers are looking at immunotherapies that tweak the immune system to facilitate regeneration or to tackle inflammatory diseases. Other work looks at new materials to deliver drugs, as well as developing new ways to grow tissue in the dental, oral and craniofacial areas, which will have applications for other parts of the body as well.

Kohn said the TEAM grant has benefited from the commitment of the many related specialties across the U-M campus, including strong administrative support from the Office of Research at the School of Dentistry and excellent financial support from all of the U-M schools and colleges associated with the program. The program’s associate director is Dr. Jan Hu, who leads the Oral Health Sciences PhD program at the School of Dentistry. Two advisory committees also contribute.

The application that led to the most recent grant extension notes that diseases that damage oral and craniofacial tissues are complex. Finding therapies will require “innovative developments generated by multidisciplinary teams working together to tackle similar problems, share model systems, ideas, experimental tools and a vision of tissue engineering.” U-M has the distinction of being the only university in the country with top-10 dental, medical and engineering schools on a single campus. “The TEAM Training Program is therefore uniquely positioned to provide future scholars the environment, mentoring and resources to meet these challenges and create exciting new opportunities,” the report concludes.


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The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care 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.