(DALLAS) – The Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry is now one of 20 U.S. dental schools that have received a highly sought National Research Service Award Institutional Research Training (T32) Grant.

The new grant is the largest T32 grant awarded in health science center history.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research, the T32 grant will award the college $1.6 million over a four-year period to begin a training program named “B-STARS,” Baylor’s Scientific Training Program for Dental Academic Research Scholars. The new and enhanced training will be offered to predoctoral and postdoctoral students and will use a unique and rigorous multidisciplinary environment. B-STARS participants will be prepared to lead the next generation of dental academic research faculty.

“The comprehensive T32 training grants awarded by NIDCR are very difficult to get because of the requirements for high-level research and training opportunities,” said Dr. David Carlson, vice president for research and graduate studies at the Texas A&M Health Science Center. “As a result, the T32 awards actually tend to define those dental schools that are the most highly regarded as investments by the NIDCR.”

Among the dental schools with active T32s are the University of Michigan, University of Washington in Seattle and University of California at San Francisco.

The primary mission of B-STARS is to train dental scientists to conduct clinically relevant oral health research. In turn, those researchers can bring their scientific knowledge into the clinical setting. The program also will help add new faculty and fill positions left open by aging faculty in U.S. dental schools.

The B-STARS program offers three tracks. The first is for predoctoral students to achieve a combined D.D.S. degree and Ph.D. degree. The second track is for D.D.S. graduates to achieve a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences or an M.S. degree in clinical research, the latter offered through a partnership with the Department of Clinical Sciences at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. A third track offers the opportunity for D.D.S., D.D.S./Ph.D. and Ph.D. graduates to conduct postdoctoral fellowship training.

Participants will have the opportunity to work with one or more of 50 faculty mentors from HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry, UT Southwestern, HSC-Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston and Rice University in Houston. Participants can study from the areas of genes and development, matrix biology and tissue engineering, neurosciences and molecular pathology, and clinical research. Academic degrees will be awarded primarily by the HSC-Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Officials said the first B-STARS participants are currently enrolling in the program.
B-STARS is directed by Dr. Rena D’Souza, professor and chair of biomedical sciences at HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry, and two program co-directors: Dr. Perrie Adams, associate dean for research at UT Southwestern, and Dr. Paul C. Dechow, director of the biomedical sciences graduate program at HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry.

A program advisory committee and a steering team will guide the project, composed of faculty from HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry, HSC-Institute of Biosciences and Technology, UT Southwestern and Rice. Jeanne Santa Cruz will serve as the program office administrator at the college.

“The awarding of the T32 grant brings a new dimension to the education and training of students at HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry by offering them interdisciplinary training opportunities that will open up avenues leading to careers in various aspects of craniofacial research and in academic dentistry,” said Dr. James S. Cole, college dean. “I congratulate Dr. D’Souza on the successful funding of this grant and appreciate the efforts she and her colleagues have put into garnering this important award for our institution.”

Nancy W. Dickey, President of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs for the Texas A&M University System, said: “The NIH T32 training grant clearly demonstrates the advancement that HSC-BCD has made in dental research and training. I am extremely proud of the national reputation that the college has developed, especially since becoming part of Texas A&M Health Science Center.”

B-STARS is the latest in a series of prestigious NIH/NIDCR grants awarded to faculty in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry.

Beginning in 2004, the college received funding for its U24 HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry Research Infrastructure Enhancement Program, spearheaded by Dr. Carlson. An Oral Health Research Education (R25) Grant (“CUSPID”: Clinicians Using Science Produce Inspired Dentists), was funded in April 2008 and led by Dr. Robert Hinton. The scope of these programs is enhanced by an ongoing partnership with UT Southwestern through an NIH-funded Clinical and Translational Science Award. Funded in September 2007, the collaboration is led by Dr. Milton Packer of UT Southwestern and spearheaded at HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry by Dr. Dechow.

“The funding of this major training program completes the triad of mechanisms that, when packaged together, provides HSC-BCD with unprecedented opportunities to fulfill the teaching and research missions of the Texas A&M Health Science Center,” Dr. D’Souza said. “We can now create an active pipeline of well-trained candidates who will be mentored by outstanding dental researchers for successful careers in oral health research.”

B-STARS directors are Dr. Rena D’Souza, program director, professor and chair of biomedical sciences at HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry; Dr. Perrie Adams, program co-director, professor and associate dean for research at UT Southwestern; and Dr. Paul Dechow, program co-director, professor and director of the biomedical sciences graduate program at HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry.

The B-STARS Steering Team is Dr. Lynne Opperman, biomedical sciences professor at HSC-BCD; Dr. Robert Spears, biomedical sciences associate professor at HSC-BCD; Dr. Nancy Street, associate dean of the biomedical sciences graduate school at UT Southwestern; and Dr. Kathy Svoboda, biomedical sciences professor at HSC-BCD.

The B-STARS Program Advisory Committee is Dr. Brad Amendt, associate professor at HSC-IBT; Dr. Larry Bellinger, associate dean for research and graduate studies at HSC-BCD; Dr. Charles Berry, associate dean for academic affairs at HSC-BCD; Dr. Ann McCann, director of planning and assessment at HSC-BCD; Dr. Anthony Mikos, professor at Rice University; Dr. Barbara Miller, executive director of admissions and recruitment at HSC-BCD; and Dr. Milton Packer, professor and director of the center for biostatistics and clinical science at UT Southwestern.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its seven colleges located in communities throughout Texas are the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, the College of Medicine in College Station and Temple, the College of Nursing in College Station, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston, the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy in Kingsville, and the School of Rural Public Health in College Station.

— LaDawn Brock