Winter 2016

Seeding Great Ideas

University grant programs encourage collaborative, innovative work

By Jacqueline Mitchell

Four research projects for which dental school faculty are principal investigators have received seed grants from the Tufts Collaborates and Tufts Innovates programs.

They are among more than 100 research projects across the university that have been supported by the two programs—one to support interdisciplinary collaboration, the other to encourage educational innovation, as the names suggest—since the offices of the Provost and the Vice Provost for Research introduced them four years ago.

Some of the dental projects involve translational science—research that yields results that make an immediate clinical impact, says Jennifer Towers, director of dental research affairs.

Twenty-two research proposals received Tufts Collaborates funding this year, among them three dental school projects that involve collaborations with colleagues at Tufts School of Engineering.

Jake Chen of the department of periodontology and Qisheng Tu of comprehensive care are studying craniofacial bone regeneration with Qiaobing Xu, a biomedical engineer. Jonathan Garlick, who studies 3D human tissue models in the department of diagnostic sciences, is using novel imaging platforms to study fibrotic diseases in partnership with Irene Georgakoudi, another biomedical engineer. Gerard Kugel, Driss Zoukhri and Ronald Perry, all of the department of comprehensive care, and Athena Papas, of the department of diagnostic sciences, are examining tooth cleansing on the nanoscale with Igor Sokolov, a mechanical engineer.

One of the four projects funded by the Tufts Innovates program could serve as an important resource for interdisciplinary work for generations to come. A team of educators from across the university, including John Morgan, professor of public health and community service, seeks to build web-based interactive technology to provide medical, dental and veterinary students at Tufts with problem-based learning cases to help them understand how the health of people, animals and the environment are interconnected—a concept known as One Health.

In addition to fostering novel ideas and discoveries, the seed grants also give first-timers the chance to flex their research muscles, says Towers. Her office helps dental researchers leverage findings from these initial studies into applications for larger, external grant funding.

This isn’t the first year the dental school has been well represented among the recipients of the seed grants. Towers herself, along with her colleague, Margie Skeer, an assistant professor at the School of Medicine, received a Tufts Collaborates grant last year to develop a methamphetamine-abuse intervention program that dental hygienists can use with their patients. Towers began the work as a master’s degree student in health communications at Tufts School of Medicine; she received her degree in 2013.

The seed grant “gave me the opportunity to bring on a collaborator and build upon work I had already invested in,” she says. “It really allowed me to take my research to a different level.”


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