20th annual Research Day brings together researchers in the fight against oral cancer

Sarah Aitken shares her research poster with attendees

The University of Minnesota held its 20th annual Research Day on Friday, March 1.

Hosted by Continuing Dental Education and the Office of Research and Discovery, Research Day brings together experts across the discipline to discuss cutting-edge discoveries and showcase progress made at the school and beyond. The event features a keynote, school research updates and poster presentations from learners.

Kristin Artinger speaks from a podium at Research Day

“It’s wonderful to see you all here on our 20th anniversary,” said Kristin Artinger, PhD, Assistant Dean for Research and Discovery, in her opening remarks. “Research is one of the primary pillars of our mission, and we are very excited to continue performing basic and clinical scientific research, with the potential for new discoveries that we can apply to our patients and provide novel therapies in the future.”

The 20th anniversary of the event focused on oral cancer: its diagnosis, complicating factors, treatments and areas of new exploration.

“Oral cancer affects up to one in sixty people in the US,” Artinger said. “It’s a very important area that we study from a variety of perspectives, and I look forward to hearing more about them today.”

D'Souza speaks with a powerpoint behind her

The day began with an address from Rena Nayantara D’Souza, DDS, MS, PhD, on the value of research in dental education. Director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research at the National Institutes of Health, D’Souza is an expert in developmental biology and genetics, biomaterials, matrix biology and the translation of research into clinical settings.

“Dentistry is facing challenges, just like academia in general,” she reflected. “It’s very special to be somewhere like this, where the legacy of training is so clear.”

D’Souza stressed the need to continue to grow and support the future of oral health research.

“The greatest calling our students have is to ensure that oral health care is available for everyone,” D’Souza explained. “Your three missions of teaching, clinical care and research inform one another, and when taken together, they help us to be great communicators about the work that we do and the science behind it.”

Wong speaks from behind a podium

A keynote from David Wong, DDS, PhD, followed D’Souza’s remarks, and focused on salivaomics, saliva-exosomics and saliva liquid biopsy. Wong brought his expertise as the Felix and Mildred Yip Endowed Chair in Dentistry, director of the UCLA Center for Oral/Head and Neck Research and professor in the Section of Biosystems and Function to his address, sharing his research on the use of saliva diagnostics for oral cancer.

“This is a complex topic that may be new to many of you, but by the end of the talk, I hope you’ll understand: this is who we are, this is what we do and this is why the oral-systemic activity brings us excitement about oral health research,” Wong said. “Saliva provides us an opportunity to traverse two frontiers: the clinical-translational, and the scientific. Together, these frontiers will allow us to advance in the areas of disease protection and detection.”

Attendees listen to a researcher explain her poster

School of Dentistry experts from various fields explored their role in the study of oral cancer. Rajaram Gopalakrishnan, BDS, PhD, professor and director of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, provided insight into the role of oral cancer for Fanconi Anemia patients. Chong Wang, PhD, assistant professor of basic sciences, shared his research on epigenetic mapping targets for nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Finally, Heather Conrad, DMD, MS, FACP, FRCD(C), associate professor of prosthodontics and Interim Chair of the Department of Restorative Sciences, shared her research on how maxillofacial prosthetic rehabilitation can impact the quality of life of patients with oral cancer.

The day also featured a poster session, where students pursuing graduate education in oral biology showcased their research, and a luncheon for participants in and donors to the Student Summer Research Program.

Dean Keith Mays, DDS, MS, PhD, continued a recent tradition, announcing Donald Simone, PhD, professor and Chair of the Department of Diagnostic and Biological Sciences, as the 2023 Professor of the Year.

Simone reacts to being named Professor of the Year

“The selection committee highlighted Simone’s role in leadership within the school, as well as his expertise in neuroscience–studying a broad array of topics focused on the mechanisms of pain. This expertise has led to an extensive track record of collaboration, 180 papers and more than 15,000 citations” said Mays. “Thank you, Dr. Simone, for all you’ve done and all you continue to do for our school, programs, faculty, staff and community.”  

As the school celebrated 20 years of coming together for research, leadership and attendees reflected on two decades of excellence and looked forward to what was to come.

“It is exciting and hard to imagine that we have showcased the outstanding work of our faculty and student research for 20 years,” Mays reflected. “For many years, the research and discovery of our faculty has been an aspect of our core mission. As we celebrate 20 years of achievement on Research Day, it is also great to know that we will continue to build on a legacy of outstanding research and discovery.” 

Research Day 2024

Dean Mays and Kristin Artinger at Research Day 2024
Attendees at Research Day 2024
Artinger, Wong, D'Souza, and Mays at Research Day
Dean Mays speaks from behind a podium
Artinger speaks at the podium
D'Souza speaks from behind a podium
Mays and an attendee at Research Day
Researcher poses in front of her poster
Attendees talk during a break at Research Day
Sheila Riggs listens at research day
Rajaram Gopalakrishnan speaks behind a podium
Researchers share their posters with attendees
Researchers share their posters with attendees
A researcher poses with her poster
Researchers share their posters with attendees