Research News 2020

2018 research news
Dr. Azeez Butali

Dr. Azeez Butali Receives 5-year Grant for Over $3.2M

Feb 28, 2020

The National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research awarded Dr. Azeez Butali, associate professor in the Department of Oral Pathology, Radiology, and Medicine, a 5-year grant exceeding $3.2M. Dr. Butali’s project, “Refining the Genetic and Genomic Architecture of Non-syndromic Orofacial Clefts,” aims to identify new genetic variants of cleft lip (with or without cleft palate—CL/P) in African populations with the goal of providing new insight into the pathogenesis of CL/P.

This project is part of Dr. Butali’s long-term goal of identifying the genetic, genomic, and environmental factors in the etiology of orofacial clefts in families of African descent. Although genetic studies of cleft lip among family of Northern European and Asian descent have revealed several genetic factors at work in cleft lip, there have been few studies on families of African descent.

This project builds on earlier research from the Butali team, which identified several genetics factors of cleft lip in African populations, and seeks to identify more.

The project has three specific aims:

To replicate and conduct a meta-analysis of variants found in genome-wide association studies for CL/P and cleft palate only (CPO).

To perform analyses of completed whole genome sequencing (WGS) of 150 CL/P case-parent triads from Africa, and to identify functional variants that are rare and contribute to bilateral cleft lip and plate in African populations.

To conduct mechanistic analyses of genome-wide significant SNPs from the Butali’s lab’s African genome-wide association study.

Dr. Butali’s research team includes:

  1. Robert Cornell- University of Iowa co-I
  2. Hunjun Cao - University of Iowa co- I
  3. Adebowale Adeyemo - NHGRI co-I
  4. Wasiu Lanre Adeyemo- University of Lagos, Nigeria  co-I
  5. Lord J.J Gowans - Kwame Nkurumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana co-I
  6. Mekonen Abebe Eshete - Addis Ababa University  co-I
  7. Margaret Taub - John Hopkins University  co-I
  8. Rita Shinag and Jennifer Rhodes- Virginia Commonwealth University  co-I 
  9. Jeff Murray - Consultant

Dr. Isabelle Denry: World-Renowned Researcher Receives Prestigious Award for Her Cutting-Edge Blood-Clotting Research

Feb 28, 2020

Dr. Isabelle Denry, professor in the Department of Prosthodontics, is an internationally-recognized expert whose research focuses on developing, characterizing, and understanding the relationship between structure and clinical performance of ceramics for use in dentistry.

Isabelle Denry receives 2019 Distinguished Scientist AwardAt the 2019 International Association for Dental Research (IADR) annual meeting in Vancouver, she received the Wilmer Souder Award—an IADR Distinguished Scientist Award—recognizing excellence in the field of Dental Materials.

“Looking at the list of past award recipients, I felt very honored to receive this award and to have my name added to this list of highly regarded researchers,“ Dr. Denry stated.

So, what sets Dr. Denry apart from others?

As their careers develop, many scientists slowly part from the research program of their mentor as they develop their own research profile through a series of incremental improvements within that research general direction.

Dr. Denry’s methodology, however, is more exploratory and entrepreneurial. She’s always looking for new angles and possibilities, potential applications of novel materials, as well as innovative experimental approaches.

“I like to think outside the box and I am excited to try high risk/high reward experiments. Often the results are inconclusive; but scientists need to explore new possibilities—I was trained to be rigorous but audacious at the University of Paris and that’s really what science is about,” Dr. Denry said.

Dr. Denry in her labPerhaps the best example of Dr. Denry’s exploratory approach is when she discovered a self-assembled gallo-silicate microsphere material with some unique properties. Presently, there are a number of emergency blood clotting agents, but they all have significant drawbacks. Some produce strong exothermic reactions that cause serious burns, others are made from shellfish and can cause allergic reactions, still others leave behind residue that can be harmful.

Dr. Denry, however, invented an effective blood clotting agent that has none of these drawbacks. Although initially designed to stop oral bleeding, this discovery has been so revolutionary that several companies are interested in developing it for triage and emergency situations, as a replacement for current blood clotting agents. Because of these possible applications, the University of Iowa has applied for international and US patents on the technology, and the International Association for Dental Research awarded Dr. Denry a 2020 IADR Innovation in Oral Care Award for $50,000.

Since 2011, Iowa has been privileged to have Dr. Denry’s unique scientific expertise, and the results of her work could be saving lives for years to come. 

Susan McKernan

Using Dental Public Health Research to Improve Access to Care in Iowa

Feb 14, 2020

Although Dr. Susan McKernan was awarded a $300,000, two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health in June, the seeds for the award were planted and cultivated much earlier.

The seed: As a dental student at the University of Florida, McKernan had an extramural rotation in southern Florida providing dental care to seasonal farm workers without insurance.

“There were 4-year olds that needed every single tooth extracted,” McKernan said. “And every night, I went home and cried.”

The experience opened McKernan’s eyes to the great impact that preventive dental care can have. Fast-forward a few years as she was in private practice in well-to-do area of Tampa, and she realized that no matter how much she did in this practice, it would never have the impact that a rigorous preventive oral health care routine would have for those who lack access to these services.

The growth: That’s when McKernan decided it was time for her to address larger issues in access to care as she earned an M.S. and a Ph.D. specializing in dental public health at the University of Iowa.

“I knew I needed to go to Iowa,” McKernan explained, “since it was the best dental public health program in the country.”

As a student, McKernan was an active participant in the college’s research training grant, and it helped her become the researcher she is today—exposing her to high-quality research projects and strategies, improving her critical thinking skills, and teaching her to conduct her own research projects.

The fruit: McKernan is now assistant professor in Iowa’s Department of Preventive and Community Dentistry and a researcher in the Health Policy Research Program as part of the Public Policy Center at Iowa.

McKernan’s current project is a preliminary study with the long-term goal of improving care and access to preventive care for underserved populations.

McKernan and her colleagues at the Public Policy Center, including Pete Damiano, Ray Kuthy, and Julie Reynolds, among others, have collaborated to develop a holistic picture of oral health care preventive service needs in Iowa. They have found a number of structural and public-policy barriers that limit access to routine preventive care, particularly for children. Cost is the number one barrier to dental care and this is particularly challenging in Iowa with recent changes to Iowa’s state-provided dental insurance plans that have made it unclear who and what is covered.

Lack of transportation and not being able to find a dentist, particularly one that will accept state-provided dental insurance, are also barriers for underserved populations.

“Transportation is obviously challenging in some rural areas where certain towns don’t have a dentist or public transportation for getting to a town with a dentist,” McKernan explained.

But transportation is also a barrier for low-income families in urban areas with public transportation. Work and bus schedules may turn an hour long appointment into a task that takes the whole day.

In addition to these structural barriers, McKernan and her colleagues are exploring how clinical treatment patterns and the use of preventive care vary widely among dentists. For example, some dentists rarely follow American Dental Association (ADA) recommendations regarding the use of sealants and fluoride, which are known to significantly reduce tooth decay, and this can be especially problematic for low-income children and patients with special health care needs.

“There could be a number of factors that account for these differences in care between affluent and low-income populations—for example, insurance payment structures do not incentivize preventive care and it may be common in certain regions for the community of dentists to ignore or reject ADA recommendations,” McKernan said.

These barriers, however, are not insurmountable.

“We need to know which levers make it more likely that a dentist will follow preventive recommendations on the use of fluoride and sealants, and successfully implement those recommendations with buy-in from the entire clinic—from the dentist to the front-desk clerk,” McKernan said.

For McKernan, whether it’s helping dentists successfully implement the best preventive practices or reducing barriers in access to care, the fruit that she hopes to see is a lasting, widespread improvement in preventive dental care among underserved populations.

Dr. Eric Van Otterloo

Dr. Eric Van Otterloo Receives Three-Year NIH Grant for Over $700K

Jan 10, 2020

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research awarded Dr. Eric Van Otterloo a three-year grant for his project, “Understanding the interaction of Memo1 and Runx2 in craniodental mineralization.” The grant includes funding for three years with over $700K total.

Dr. Van Otterloo joined the College of Dentistry as an assistant professor in the Department of Periodontics and the Iowa Institute for Oral Health Research this past fall. The award is part of a larger project including a mentored- and independent-phase. This grant is for the independent phase (R00) of the project, building on the work established during the mentored-phase of the award (K99).

The overall goal of the project is to advance understanding of cranial and dental development and the underlying gene regulatory networks (GRNs) governing their development. During the earlier K99 award, Dr. Van Otterloo focused on the role of MEMO1—an elusive oncogene—in both cranial and dental mineralization, its integration into larger developmental GRNs, and how these networks can be used for therapeutic purposes.

Dr. Van Otterloo is further developing this work, and will test his hypothesis that Memo1 and Runx2 are central components of a GRN responsible for mineralization of craniodental tissues. He will be testing this hypothesis using cranial endochondral bone and dental enamel models with the following aims:

 Aim 1: Determine intersection of MEMO1, RUNX2, and their interactors, in cranial mineralization GRNs.

Aim 2: Identify MEMO1’s role and genetic interaction with additional factors during cranial bone mineralization.

Aim 3: MEMO1 and RUNX2’s role within the ameloblast lineage during enamel mineralization.