Salvador Nares, DDS, MS, PhD, 2009 Nevins Fellow:

1. What is your research focus?

Our group is focused on the characterization of microRNAs that play a role in periodontal health an disease. These small endogenous RNA molecules regulate a plethora of key biological processes ranging from the very beginning (development, differentiation) to the very end (apoptosis, cell death). Only recently did we begin to appreciate their significance in periodontology and implantology. I like to compare their primary function to that of a volume knob on your car radio. That is, the ability to control intensity. As an immunologist I am particularly interested with those that regulate the inflammatory response and osteoclast biology. The ultimate goal is to be able to harness their enormous potential to 'turn-up' or 'turn-down' the 'volume' (intensities) of important biological processes for the benefit of the patient.

2. What has/have been the most significant contribution(s) of your research to our specialty?

There is still lots to be done but to date we have combined in-vivo and in-vitro approaches to identify microRNAs that regulate inflammatory responses in host immune host cells in periodontal and peri-implant tissues. We showed that these specific microRNAs regulate important host defense functions including phagocytosis of microorganisms and the ability to secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines. Our group has also identified microRNAs that regulate osteoclast differentiation and ability to resorb bone.

3. What are some future directions of your research program?

We will continue to characterize microRNA in human tissues and plan to use animal models of oral infection to determine the effects of altering microRNA levels on host defense and tissue destruction. That is, to see if we can 'turn-up or turn down the volume' using specific microRNAs. We are also interested in exploring the role of viral-derived microRNA on host immune cells.

4. What influence did the support from the Foundation have on your career as a researcher?

This is clear, the recognition and support provided by the Foundation has served to solidify my desire to continue my work in academia and research and to help train the next generation of clinicians and scientists.

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Past Award Winners Update

Congratulations to Gustavo Avila-Ortiz, DDS, MS, PhD, 2011 Teaching Fellow and 2009 AAPF Fellow to the ADEA/AAL Institute for Teaching and Learning in the Health Professions, who recently was appointed Department Chair (DEO) and promoted to Professor at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, Department of Periodontics.