June 15, 2018
Annette Merkel, a dual degree (DMD-PhD) College of Dentistry student in the MOST (Multidisciplinary Oral Science Training) program, has received a competitive National Institutes of Health F30 award through the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. The prestigious F30 is a fellowship grant for dual-degree students who aim to have careers as clinician-scientists.
“During my first year of my PhD, I gathered preliminary data for my research project with the goal of applying to this fellowship grant,” Merkel explained. “The F30 is different than other NIH grants because a large portion of the application requires a proposal of how to integrate both the clinical training plan with research training during one’s education, as well as a future direction in how the fellowship award will benefit one’s career path. The application was reviewed by experts in the field and scored over a few months.”
In Merkel’s research project, “Endoplasmic Chaperone GRP78 Interacts with DMP1 to Function in Biomineralization,” she is aiming to understand the interaction of Glucose Regulated Protein-78 and Dentin Matrix Protein-1 and how they function in the differentiation of periodontal ligament stem cells and in mineralization.
“This knowledge will give us a deeper understanding of biomineralization and lead to more reliable and effective ways of tissue regeneration,” she said. “My overall goal is to understand how the two protiens function together to ultimately provide a novel way to achieve bone regeneration with stem cells in the periodontium.”
As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Merkel’s research was on the microbiome and the biomineralization of kidney stones. “Once I matriculated into the dual degree program, I knew I wanted to work with Dr. Anne George and expand my knowledge on biomineralization to bone and teeth here at the College.”
Dr. George, the Dr. Allan G. Brodie Endowed Professor and Professor of Oral Biology, and Merkel developed her research project “that would both expand my knowledge and give me the proper training to become a dentist-scientist in the future,” she said.
Video: DMD/PhD Program: Training the Next Generation of Dental Scientists
Merkel’s research is just a portion of the mineralization research underway at the College. “I hope to continue to learn from other researchers at the College and use what I discover to enhance that research,” she said. “By presenting my research nationally and internationally, I hope to help the profession by forming collaborations to find more innovative ways to achieve tissue regeneration.”
The College is a great environment for Merkel, who noted, “The UIC College of Dentistry allows me to get trained as both a scientist and a dentist, which is an amazing opportunity to help patients directly and indirectly.
“One of the best things about doing research here is the diversity of researchers in the building and their desire to always help one another,” she said. “If I cannot get an experiment to work or need additional help, I can ask my mentor, other members of my lab, or someone else in the building who is an expert in that area. It is truly a great place to be trained as a dentist and a scientist.”
The funding Merkel will receive from the grant will be used for tuition and research.
Merkel’s mentor is Dr. George. Her sponsors are Dr. Ana Bedran-Russo, Associate Professor, Restorative Dentistry, and Program Director of MOST; and Dr. Salvador Nares, Head Periodontics. Collaborators in her laboratory work are Dr. Yinghua Chen, Research Specialist, and Elizabeth Guirado, MOST student.
Photo caption: Annette Merkel with Dean Clark Stanford