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$5 million grant will train students in oral health research

Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2008 · Volume: XLI · Issue: 17

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Contact: Natalie Gutierrez, (210) 567-6814

COSTAR mentors and trainees visit with Dr. Songtao Shi (front row, far left), a guest lecturer from the University of Southern California and an expert in stem cell biology.
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COSTAR mentors and trainees visit with Dr. Songtao Shi (front row, far left), a guest lecturer from the University of Southern California and an expert in stem cell biology.clear graphic

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has renewed a five-year, $5 million grant for the Craniofacial Oral-Biology Student Training in Academic Research (COSTAR) program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The first round of funding was received in 2002. The renewed grant will continue through 2012.

Program provides broad interdisciplinary research training
The mission of the COSTAR program, which was established in 2002 and is housed in the Dental School, is to train a cadre of highly skilled scientists who can successfully address the expanding opportunities in dental, oral and craniofacial research. The program provides a broad interdisciplinary research training experience for exceptionally motivated trainees in a research-intensive academic environment. The comprehensive COSTAR training program supports training in basic and patient-oriented research for students and postdoctoral fellows who already have earned a professional or Ph.D. degree.

Developing the next generation of leaders in oral health
Kenneth Kalkwarf, D.D.S., dean of the Dental School, noted the importance of support for COSTAR. “Advanced training of both basic and patient-oriented scientists is vital,” he said. “These trainees represent the next generation of leaders in the field of oral health research and education.”

Seven new trainees funded
The grant funding allows COSTAR to appoint seven new trainees this year who will gain advanced research training as part of their formal Ph.D. or D.D.S./Ph.D. program, or through positions as postdoctoral fellows. Some are also enrolled in the Master of Clinical Investigation program at the Health Science Center.

The new trainees include:
  • D.D.S./Ph.D. program: Ahmed Sabbah
  • Ph.D. program: Adriana Benavides, Patricia Carlisle and Carlos Sanchez
  • Postdoctoral program: Whitney Greene, Ph.D., Dayna Loyd, Ph.D., and Kevin Scott, D.D.S.
Trainees benefit from an interdisciplinary agenda that offers the experience of outstanding faculty mentors from the Dental School and the Departments of Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Cellular & Structural Biology and Microbiology & Immunology. The grant increases the total number of supported trainees to 17.

Trainees become leaders in their fields
COSTAR Director Bjorn Steffensen, D.D.S., Ph.D., professor of periodontics and biochemistry and associate dean for research in the Dental School, said he was excited about the possibilities the new trainees will bring to the future of health care across the nation.

“In a recent review of our former trainees, we were proud to find that many graduates from COSTAR and former research training programs at the Dental School are now leading productive and successful academic careers around the country,” Dr. Steffensen said. “They are impacting lives and the future of health care globally.”

During the first five-year funding period, COSTAR trainees published 54 peer-reviewed papers and gave 253 presentations at local or national meetings. Four of the trainees received individual NIH grants providing the opportunity for additional new trainees to enter the program.

This year’s trainees and mentors will engage in research on health and diseases of the mouth and head and neck. The range of projects is broad and the findings have wide implications to both the oral and general health of patients. Research topics include basic and translational research in tooth and cranial development, stem cell and tissue engineering, oral microbiology and immunology, pain mechanisms, as well as mechanisms and epidemiology of HIV infection.


The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 23,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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