USC University of Southern California

Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC receives nearly $8 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds

Researchers at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC have received grants totaling nearly $8 million as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, enjoying the second-highest success rate of any USC with 35% approval.

Signed into law by President Obama in February, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds projects designed to create jobs and stimulate the economy as well as make important scientific progress. The Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology (CCMB) received over $5.3 million in ARRA funds with 14 of its 22 proposals funded. The CCMB’s 63.6 percent approval rate is the highest of any research center at USC.

“This is a very good endorsement from the National Institutes of Health,” said Yang Chai, Ostrow School of Dentistry Associate Dean of Research and Director of the CCMB. “This helps create a good environment in which to do good science.”

A selection of the many awards:

•    A prestigious P30 grant, funded for over $1.5 million, will be used to hire and support two new tenure-track faculty members with joint appointments with the Ostrow School of Dentistry and the Keck School of Medicine. The new faculty members will investigate the specifics of craniofacial development and the possibilities of stem cell regeneration for craniofacial abnormalities, Chai said. M. Elizabeth Fini, Vice Dean for Research at the Keck School of Medicine, and CCMB Professor Malcolm Snead were instrumental in assembling the grant, he added.

•    Associate Professor Janet Oldak was awarded $317,047 to study the assembly of amelogenin nanospheres, one of the key components of dental enamel, in hopes of one day developing a method to regenerate natural tooth enamel in patients. Besides funding the complex examination of enamel protein activity, the grant will also support the postdoctoral researchers and research assistants that contribute to the project, Oldak said.

•    Associate Professor Michael Paine received $811,875 in ARRA funding to study amelogenesis imperfecta, a devastating disorder in which tooth enamel fails to properly form. The study will examine the connections between amelogenesis imperfecta and certain inherited kidney conditions that may result in poor enamel formation as a result of an inability of the enamel-producing cells to correctly regulate pH.

•    Associate Professor Songtao Shi will use an award of $813,050 to research the relationships between the mesenchymal stem cells in the jaw and the T-lymphocytes of the immune system. These orofacial mesenchymal stem cells, or OFMSC, are thought to react differently to T-cell activity compared to bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells, or BMMSC, which could explain the unique effects of immune system disorders on the structures of the face as opposed to the rest of the body, Shi said.

•    Research Professor Margarita Zeichner-David has been awarded $790,654 to study the forces that regulate the growth of the roots of teeth and the tissues that surround them. More than 300 genes have been identified as having roles in tooth development, Zeichner-David said, but only the gene for Nuclear Factor I-C (NFI-C) has been found to regulate root development and the surrounding tissue. Using “knockout” mice, or mice with the NFI-C gene inactivated, she hopes to determine which genetic processes are affected by NFI-C and thus understand more about disorders that result in root malformations. This research will provide insight into genetic diseases that result in premature loss of teeth, such as the absence of roots or defects in cementum, periodontal ligament or alveolar bone, Zeichner-David said.

•    Professor Malcolm Snead and Research Assistant Professor Yan Zhou have received an award of $399,886 to study amelogenin’s ability to induce osteogenesis, or bone growth, in stem cells. Leucine-Rich Amelogenin Peptide (LRAP) has been shown to induce bone growth in various types of mouse stem cells, and Snead and Zhou hypothesize that LRAP is able to balance the relationship between the cells that induce bone growth and those that induce fat tissue growth. The grant will also provide employment for postdoctoral scientists investigating this phenomenon.