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Innovator in regenerative medicine receives 2018 Norton M. Ross Award

October 15, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Dr. Giannobile
Dr. Giannobile
Dr. William Giannobile’s interest in dentistry sparked from the mentorship of his dentist near St. James, Missouri, the small town where he grew up.

Dr. Steven Atkinson was a part-time dairy farmer and, growing up on a dairy farm himself, Dr. Giannobile sometimes took care of daily chores and managing the herd on Dr. Atkinson’s farm, who in turn allowed the young man to shadow him in the dental office.

“I found that dentistry was a profession with a wonderful balance of the intellectual challenges with the scientific side while using my hands to contribute to the helping of patients,” said Dr. Giannobile.

Decades later, Dr. Giannobile is still no stranger to hard work, especially when it comes to scientific research and education.

For his achievements in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, and his dedication to innovation, collaboration, mentorship and leadership, the ADA has awarded Dr. Giannobile the 2018 Norton M. Ross Award for Excellence in Clinical Research.

The ADA has presented the annual award since 1991 to recognize investigators whose research has significant impact on some aspect of clinical dentistry. It is financially supported by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc.

In ADA President Joseph P. Crowley’s letter to Dr. Giannobile announcing the honor, Dr. Crowley said “the commitment and perseverance you have shown to clinical research has made you well-respected internationally and led to the development of new treatment methods and products impacting oral health.”

Added Dr. Michael Lynch, global director and fellow of Oral Care Global Scientific Engagement at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., “His contributions to the scientific community are incredible and range across regenerative medicine, salivary biomarkers, periodontology and implantology with hundreds of papers and tens-of-thousands of citations.”

Dr. Giannobile will receive $5,000 and a commemorative plaque during a ceremony at ADA Headquarters next year.

He said the honor was “surprising and humbling.”

“Many of the previous recipients of this award are the leaders of our clinical research field as well as mentors to me in my own development,” Dr. Giannobile told the ADA News. “As such, I feel very fortunate to be considered among such a group of important contributors to clinical research in the oral health sciences.”

Leadership in research

Over the past 25 years, Dr. Giannobile has been principal investigator or coprincipal investigator in 46 research studies, said Dr. Laurie McCauley, dean of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, who nominated Dr. Giannobile for the award.

He is currently a co-principal investigator on several grants, including the Michigan-Pittsburgh-Wyss Regenerative Medicine Research Center grant, which comes from the National Institutes of Health/the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Dr. Giannobile said he values being able to advance clinical research translation from the laboratory to the clinic. His scientific research has influenced management of periodontal disease. He has investigated stem cell therapy and biologics to repair oral bone defects and the use of local antimicrobial therapy and hostmoduclation therapeutics.

“I also had the good fortune to get involved in saliva diagnostics that could lead to the identification of oral and systemic diseases,” said Dr. Giannobile. “This work was done in a very collaborative environment with oral health researchers as well as researchers in the biomedical and engineering domains.”

Furthermore, his research has fostered the expansion of clinical development and evaluation of new products refinements of existing products and the translation of products to impact oral regenerative applications, said Dr. McCauley.

Dr. Giannobile received a research fellowship as early as his second year in dental school at the University of Missouri, he said, crediting the American and International Associations of Dental Research with helping him develop over his career as a researcher.

Following dental school, he went on to earn a certificate in periodontology and D.M.S. in oral biology at Harvard University, where he also completed a periodontology residency.

“The combined program showed me the many facets of combining clinical care and research, something I have always found rewarding and solidifying my interest in translational and clinical research,” he said.

Influence in publishing

Dr. Giannobile has been the editor of the Journal of Dental Research since 2010 and is credited with being a “major catalyst” in the formation of the Journal of Dental Research – Clinical & Translational Research, said Dr. McCauley.

“The Journal of Dental Research continues to have the great impact factor of any dental journal,” said Dr. McCauley.

In addition, Dr. Giannobile is also editor or coeditor of three dozen journals and eight textbooks. He has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed articles and 20 book chapters.

Dr. Giannobile said being editor of the Journal of Dental Research has been “one of the most rewarding endeavors in my professional service career.”

“As the editor-in-chief, I can enable the propagation of research findings from members of the scientific community to report on innovations in the oral health sciences,” he said. “It is through scientific publication that such discoveries can benefit the basic, translational and research communities. These advancements in the field will eventually have important impacts on dental public health.”

Education, recognition and beyond

In 2003, Dr. Giannobile helped found the Michigan Center for Oral Health Research at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, where is he is currently chair of the department of periodontics and oral medicine.

The center focused on investigating novel therapies to help advance clinical care. Dr. Giannobile’s organization and leadership of it “connected existing activities to industrial applications, provided a site-for high-level organization support, provided training for new clinical research investigators and helped to manage the collect and analysis of data,” said Dr. McCauley, calling the center “one of very few that existed in dental education at that time.”

In addition to chair of the department of periodontics and oral medicine at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, he is the William K. & Mary Anne Najjar Professor in Dentistry there and a professor in the department of biomedical engineering.

He has mentored numerous undergraduate students, dental research students, graduate students, post doctoral fellows and faculty involved in various research activities, said Dr. McCauley.

“He is highly sought after by students and faculty at the school of dentistry and his former students are already leaders in dentistry,” said Dr. McCauley.

Dr. Giannobile has also lectured around the world, often on regenerative dentistry.

His efforts have been recognized with a number of prestigious honors including the American Academy of Periodontology’s R. Earl Robinson Periodontal Regeneration Award, the American Academy of Periodontology’s Clinical Research Award and the American Dental Education Association’s William J. Gies Award.

Dr. Giannobile has been married for 28 years to his high school sweetheart, Angela Giannobile, O.D., with whom he has a son, Anthony, who is a freshman at the University of Michigan studying neuroscience. Dr. Giannobile said he often spends his time out of the lab and classroom running, gardening or traveling.

When asked what he wants ADA News readers to know about him. Dr. Giannobile said he likes to emphasize that he values interactions between teaching, the clinic and doing research. At the end of the day, it is the patients who inspire him most in his professional efforts, he said.

“I have worked in clinical practice both within the dental school as well as 12 years extramurally in practice limited to periodontics and implant dentistry,” he said.  “While I appreciate I have a more limited clinical role, it is my continued interactions with patients that remain so invaluable to inspire me in my teaching and research endeavors.”