Chondrocytes in the spotlight
On March 22, Dr. Jerry Feng and Dr. Yan Jing climbed the steps to the stage at the joint annual meeting of the International Association for Dental Research and American Association for Dental Research. As corresponding author and first author of the 2015 Journal of Dental Research article on chondrocytes in the mandibular condyle, they were in San Francisco to accept a special honor: The William J. Gies Award for Biological Research.
It wasn’t the first time for this article to bask in the limelight: It also won the JDR Cover of the Year 2015. And in December 2016, momentum accelerated with $1.85 million in National Institutes of Health funding for Feng, biomedical sciences professor and assistant dean for research, along with his team of Texas A&M College of Dentistry researchers to continue exploring the process of bone formation in the temporomandibular joint.
What is so fascinating about the study so far? It upends previous dogma on bone formation in the mandibular condyle, the rounded knob where the mandible and upper jaw meet, contradicting previous schools of thought that cartilage cells — known as chondrocytes — must experience cell death before bone cells can form. Instead, Feng, Jing and researchers have found that these cartilage cells do not die at all. Rather, they transform into bone cells.
It’s a project 10 years in the making. Feng designed and supervised the project from its inception to publication, while Jing, now a research assistant professor in orthodontics, played a key role in generating the majority of the data. Dr. Robert Hinton, Regents professor emeritus in biomedical sciences, edited the article, and as a self-proclaimed “defender of the old dogma” regarding chondrocytes and bone formation, challenged this new idea prior to submission, which assisted in its eventual acceptance by reviewers.