Two members of the Department of Craniofacial Biology – Assistant Professor, Dr. James Nichols and Research Associate, Dr. Eric Van Otterloo – were each recently awarded prestigious awards. The 5-year K99/R00 award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a $1.15 million, two-phase grant, designed to propel promising young scientists into independent careers.
The first phase (2 years) is awarded to senior postdoctoral fellows to complete their mentored training as they prepare for an independent tenure-track position. Once such a position is secured, the second phase (3 years) is awarded to facilitate the establishment of an independent research program. These two members of the Department represent both phases of this award. Van Otterloo is in the first, mentored, K99-phase of the award, while Nichols has successfully secured funds for the R00-independent phase.
Both investigators will use these funds to continue their work to further understand the genetic basis of craniofacial development – insight that will be critical for a deeper understanding of human craniofacial defects. More specifically, utilizing novel mouse models, Van Otterloo’s studies will focus on pathways of mineralization in the head, including the ability of cells to form mineralized bone and enamel – structures essential for proper craniofacial function. Dr. Nichols’ work utilizes zebrafish, another powerful model system of human craniofacial development, to address how variation is established amongst cranial skeletons, despite identical genetics. Such studies provide a framework from which to understand why two individuals, bearing similar genetic alterations, may present with drastically different craniofacial malformations.
Overall, the purpose of the K99/R00 award is to increase and maintain a strong cohort of new and talented, NIH-supported, independent investigators – through the initial training and subsequent transition to independence. As such, both Dr. Van Otterloo and Dr. Nichols nicely highlight the continuum of this award, and the value such an award plays in ensuring the study of dental and craniofacial anomalies remains a successful endeavor of the NIH.