Dr. Hongjiao Ouyang, associate professor in endodontics, seized the moment recently to represent Texas A&M College of Dentistry among the national craniofacial research community.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)’s craniofacial research symposium in May in Bethesda, Maryland, celebrated the institute’s 70th anniversary, while also promoting the translation of basic science discoveries to clinical applications. Ouyang was among academic leaders, scholars and researchers invited to speak, including Drs. Martha Somerman, NIDCR director, and Lawrence Tabak, National Institutes of Health (NIH) principal deputy director.
“This was a great opportunity to increase the national visibility of our department and the College of Dentistry, as well as show appreciation for the NIDCR’s strong support of our research endeavors,” says Ouyang, a D.M.D./Ph.D. with specialty training in endodontics. For the past 13 years, her scientific work has been supported by the NIH, including the NIDCR.
In 2008, she was invited to speak at the NIDCR’s 60th anniversary event in Dallas. At the time, Ouyang had no plans to land in Dallas permanently. She had just obtained her first NIDCR R01 grant to jump-start her clinician-scientist career at the University of Pittsburgh.
“It seems I was destined to be linked to the Dallas community,” she says.
Her most recent presentation, “The Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) Stress IRE1/XBP1 Signaling Transduction Pathway: A Novel Regulator Underlying the Development and Diseases of Mineralized Tissues,” is based on years of research started in Pittsburgh and that continues in Dallas.
“I am fascinated by the protein-folding machinery and its role in the pathogenesis of skeletal and oral inflammatory diseases,” she says. “The organic extracellular matrix proteins in bone and teeth, such as type I collagen, must be adequately assembled inside a cell’s endoplasmic reticulum in order to execute their biological functions. The ER stress signaling network is a central regulator for protein folding and trafficking.”
Deregulation of this pathway has been shown to lead to numerous non-mineralized tissue diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, bipolar disorder and oral cancer, she says.
Using both mouse and human genetic strategies, Ouyang and her laboratory mentees—along with collaborators at the University of Pittsburgh, UT Southwestern Medical Center and Harvard University—are working toward solutions for osteoporosis, bone tumor diseases and oral inflammatory diseases.
Ouyang says she appreciates her mentees’ contributions, including those at the dental school: senior researcher Dr. Maohua Cao, pre-Ph.D. candidates Drs. Faisal Alshalawy and Ritesh Bhattacharjee, as well as D2s Samer Dalal and Jacob Judd.
“It is a pleasure to work with intellectually curious, reliable and enthusiastic co-workers and mentees,” she says.
As Ouyang expands her research endeavors, she says she hopes to accelerate the translation of mouse genetic data to benefit the understanding of dentistry-related craniofacial diseases.