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Dr. John Greenspan awarded 2012 ADA Gold Medal for AIDS efforts

July 16, 2012

By Jean Williams, ADA News staff

Dr. John S. Greenspan’s curriculum vitae is 67 pages, but it will likely spill over to 68 pages. In June, he was named recipient of the 2012 ADA Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Dental Research.

Honored: Dr. John S. Greenspan is the recipient of the 2012 ADA Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Dental Research.

“This award acknowledges Dr. Greenspan’s groundbreaking research in the oral aspects of AIDS and the role of viruses in oral lesions,” said ADA President William Calnon. “His findings have contributed greatly to our understanding of this disease and have very positively affected global health for many populations.”

Dr. Greenspan will receive the honor in October during a formal presentation at the Annual Session in San Francisco.

“When I contacted Dr. Greenspan, he impressed me with his very humble acceptance of this award,” Dr. Calnon said. “He obviously is a man of great integrity and humility.”

The ADA Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Dental Research was established in 1985 and is presented once every three years to honor individuals who contribute to the advancement of the dental profession or who help improve the oral health of the community through basic or clinical research. The honoree receives $25,000 and a gold medallion. Additionally, the recipient serves a three-year term on the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs.

Church & Dwight Co. Inc., has sponsored the Gold Medal Award with the ADA since 2005. The company manufactures the Arm & Hammer, Spinbrush and Orajel brands of oral care products.

“A lifetime of dedication to advancing research and the worldwide education on oral health solidifies Dr. Greenspan’s nomination and inclusion in this prestigious circle of Gold Medal Award recipients,” said Timothy Seitter, vice president, oral care, at Church & Dwight.

In simply reflecting upon being recently named the Gold Medal Award recipient, Dr. Greenspan continued to pile on proof of his worthiness and the humility that Dr. Calnon noted.

“The kind letter I received from ADA President William Calnon says that it is for my work in HIV science, notably the oral aspects of the AIDS epidemic, for mentoring scientists, scholarly publications and lecturing in my field,” Dr. Greenspan said. “I would like to see it as recognizing the efforts of everyone I have worked with for the 30 years of AIDS, indeed for the entire 45-plus years of my career, as well as our patients and research project participants.

“I see it also as an honor for my institution, University of California, San Francisco, the place that nurtured and supported us even in the early days when there was so much fear, marginalization and stigma to having AIDS. Those who were working on AIDS were looked upon negatively, and this institution has always supported that work, as has the Association.”

Dr. John D. B. Featherstone, dean of the UCSF School of Dentistry, nominated Dr. Greenspan for the Gold Medal Award.

“I could go on and on with details of the contributions that Professor Greenspan has made to the profession of dentistry, to the oral health of the world and to health in general,” Dr. Featherstone wrote in his nomination letter.

Indeed, he could. Dr. Greenspan’s work in the arena of oral disease in relation to the human immunodeficiency virus and AIDS is regarded as pioneering and seminal, to say the least. Along with his team of cohorts—including Dr. Deborah Greenspan, his spouse and colleague—Dr. Greenspan has blazed many trails in dentistry.

He “created an entirely new field of oral and dental science,” wrote Dr. Featherstone in nominating Dr. Greenspan. Dr. Featherstone also noted in the nomination that Dr. Greenspan is founder of the field of oral AIDS research and the co-discoverer of oral hairy leukoplakia.

“Dr. Greenspan’s elucidation of the nature, frequency, prognostic significance and etiology of oral HIV lesions and the discovery and exploration of hairy leukoplakia represent one of the most important scientific developments in the field of oral and craniofacial science in the last 30 years,” wrote Dr. Featherstone.

Dr. Greenspan was born in London, where he was educated and spent his early career and where the couple started a family. The Greenspans’ daughter, Louise Greenspan, M.D., is a pediatric endocrinologist in San Francisco, and their son, Nicholas Greenspan, is a management consultant in London. Also a luminary in dentistry, Dr. Deborah Greenspan is a past recipient of the ADA’s Norton M. Ross Award for Excellence in Clinical Research.

Early in his career, Dr. Greenspan began a long association with UCSF School of Dentistry, where he is a distinguished professor of oral pathology in the Department of Orofacial Sciences, associate dean for Global Oral Health, School of Dentistry, and a distinguished professor of pathology, School of Medicine.

Dr. Greenspan joins the pantheon of Gold Medal Award recipients as the 10th prominent researcher to be honored.

“I actually was privileged to be present when Dr. Basil Bibby received his award in 1988,” Dr. Greenspan said. “I was president of the American Association for Dental Research, and I was invited to the ceremony.”

Dr. Greenspan said it is with surprise that he received the news that he’d been named recipient. He was in Brazil, attending the International Association for Dental Research annual meeting, when he got Dr. Calnon’s congratulatory call.

“Yes, certainly, I was truly surprised,” he allowed. “There are so many superb people who deserve to be recognized, and previous awardees include some of my personal heroes in the field of academic dentistry and dental research, so it is a little humbling, perhaps intimidating to be chosen.

“I must say that I am delighted actually and impressed that HIV science, the oral and dental aspects, oral pathology and oral medicine are being recognized. What a wonderful way to encourage young and new investigators and clinicians to work in these fields, not to mention showing the public the importance of those areas of our profession and our science.”

In addition to his work with HIV/AIDS, Dr. Greenspan’s research has centered on Sjogren’s syndrome. He and colleague Dr. Troy Daniels recently established a Sjogren’s Syndrome registry. “The two are linked,” he said of his research efforts in both HIV/AIDS and Sjogren’s. “The AIDS work arose in part out of my original Sjogren’s and other oral medicine and oral pathology work.”

He also leads and coordinates global oral health at UCSF with an initiative within the Consortium of Universities for Global Health. The initiative addresses the streamlining of the international dental education process and also working in “low resources” environments, Dr. Greenspan said.

“I see that as the challenge for the coming generation, and I know the Association is taking that very seriously,” he said.

Dr. Greenspan’s core work in HIV/AIDS also continues to evolve with his involvement with the Oral HIV/AIDS Research Alliance, an AIDS Clinical Trials Group project, which seeks to develop low-cost treatment for oral candidiasis, warts and other lesions in the many cases of HIV oral disease that continue to occur, Dr. Greenspan said.

“There are still 33 million people living with HIV infection,” Dr. Greenspan said. “There are still millions of people acquiring infections, one every few minutes. Every one of those, if not fully treated with the modern antivirals, is destined to get oral manifestations. There is a lot more to be done in understanding these lesions and in preventing and treating them in the context of HIV infection. There’s also a lot to be learned from the oral lesions about immunodeficiency and immunosuppression.”