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Prolific researcher, author receives 2018 Gold Medal Award

September 17, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Dr. Kenneth Hargreaves
Gold medalist: Dr. Kenneth Hargreaves will receive $25,000 and a gold medallion and serve a three-year term on the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs.
Kenneth Hargreaves liked to keep his hands busy. As a boy, he built rockets from kits and tinkered with electronics, such as radios, he said.

Now a prolific researcher, author, educator and endodontist, Dr. Hargreaves’ work has reached a level far beyond his days with toy rockets. These days, he builds ideas that have led to treatments that have transformed dentistry.

“If we had to select an MVP in the profession of dentistry, I would say that Dr. Ken Hargreaves would be our man,” said Dr. Clara Spatafore, chair of the department of endodontics at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry.

Dr. Hargreaves in August was named the 2018 recipient of the ADA Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Dental Research. The award, sponsored by Church & Dwight, 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.

“We are delighted to honor Dr. Hargreaves for his outstanding career,” said Jaime Shepler, professional marketing manager at Church & Dwight in a statement. “His industry-leading research, personal mentorships, community contributions, and his leadership really embody the values of the Gold Medal Award.”

The Gold Medal honoree receives $25,000 and a gold medallion. Additionally, he will serve a three-year term on the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs.

Dr. Hargreaves will be recognized with the honor on Oct. 18, during a ceremony at ADA 2018 – America’s Dental Meeting in Honolulu.

Dr. Hargreaves’ research in pain management and regenerative endodontics introduced “cutting-edge treatment options and improved the patient experience,” according to a letter to Dr. Hargreaves announcing the win from ADA President Joseph P. Crowley, who also lauded Dr. Hargreaves’ dedication to mentoring students and his “tireless efforts in publishing and lecturing.”

“On behalf of your colleagues, please accept our deepest gratitude for your lifetime of work,” Dr. Crowley wrote.

Among his most noteworthy achievements, Dr. Hargreaves helped discover a family of “endo-capsaicins” that contribute to many pain disorders, including pain due to symptomatic irreversible pulpitis, cancer, post-burn pain, neuropathic pain and other inflammatory pain conditions.

“We have applied this knowledge to the development of new classes of nonopioid and nonaddictive analgesics,” Dr. Hargreaves said.

His efforts on this issue have changed the way dental professionals manage patients’ pre- and post-treatment pain and is influencing pain management in other areas of medicine, said Dr. Patrick Taylor, president of the American Association of Endodontists, in a letter nominating Dr. Hargreaves for the award.

Furthermore, “in an era of overprescribing of opioids and opioid addiction, Ken’s evidence-based advocacy for nonopioid pain control undoubtedly has led to changes in prescribing patterns and improved patient care,” said Dr. Alan Law, a dentist with a Ph.D., and president of The Dental Specialists, in another letter of nomination.

Colleagues of Dr. Hargreaves recognize him as an outstanding author and editor, having been editor-in-chief since 2003 of the Journal of Endodontics and the author of five books, 33 textbook chapters and hundreds of published papers.

“He is one of the most prolific and influential authors and researchers in the history of endodontics,” said Dr. Taylor, crediting Dr. Hargreaves with more than 13,000 citations of his papers in Scopus, a database of scientific peer-reviewed literature.

Dr. Kenneth Hargreaves
Engaging endodontist: Dr. Kenneth Hargreaves, the 2018 Gold Medal award recipient, speaks at the American Association of Endodontists’ annual meeting in April in Denver. He is professor and chair of the department of endodontics at UT Health San Antonio.
Photo: American Association of Endodontists.

Dr. Hargreaves is also known for his lectures around the globe and for his generosity and thoughtfulness as a mentor and educator. He has served in nine academic appointments since 1985, most recently and currently as professor and chair of the department of endodontics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. He has supervised more than 30 post-doctoral fellows and been advisor to almost three dozen Ph.D. and masters degree students.

“He has dedicated his career to training the next generation of dental scientists, with (the) leadership, scientific, clinic and organization skills required to make a significant contribution to our profession,” said Dr. Anibal Diogenes, a dentist with a Ph.D. who had Dr. Hargreaves as Ph.D. mentor. “I am a living example of the profound effect that he has had in many of us.” Dr. Diogenes is currently a diplomate to the American board of endodontics and associate professor and vice-chair in the department of endodontics at UT Health San Antonio.

Dr. Hargreaves explained to ADA News the personal satisfaction of being a mentor, calling it “being part of a tapestry. You have mentors that proceed you and in turn you are a mentor to your own students. I have two biological children but more than 30 intellectual children, many of whom have now trained their own students.”

Dr. Hargreaves said he was drawn to dentistry as a child in part because he had a dentist growing up who was willing to let him shadow in his practice. After earning his D.D.S. from Georgetown University in 1983, Dr. Hargreaves went on to earn a Ph.D. in physiology from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1986.

He said he spent summers during dental school doing research in the neurobiology and anesthesiology branch of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, which is just a few miles from Georgetown University.

“I won the International Association for Dental Research’s Hatton award as a dental student and it was an easy transition to consider doing a Ph.D. after dental school,” he said.

Dr. Hargreaves went on to earn his certificate in endodontics from the University Minnesota in 1993.

Following years of research and teaching, he has gone on to receive many awards and honors for his labor, including two IADR distinguished scientist awards, the IADR/AADR William J. Gies Award for Best Paper of the Year in Biomaterials/Bioengineering, and honorary membership in the American Academy of oral medicine.

On top of his professional achievements, Dr. Hargreaves is a hard-working athlete, having completed four Ironman races and currently in training for a fifth, he said. For those in the dark, the grueling Ironman Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2 mile run – done in that order without breaks.

“My goal is to finish without a cardiac event. So far, so good,” Dr. Hargreaves said.

Married to Holly Dybdal-Hargreaves, his high school sweetheart of 42 years, Dr. Hargreaves has a son, Nick, in his last year of a D.D.S./Ph.D. Program, studying oral cancer for his thesis. A second son, Michael, is in medical school.

For all of his achievements, Dr. Hargreaves said the most rewarding part of his career is “seeing the success of colleagues and their students.”

“We work in a team science environment, in which five faculty members share the same suite of labs,” he explained, adding that his research on pain mechanisms from the perspective of developing new nonopioid, nonaddictive analgesics is ongoing.

“We now have our first test drug in a clinical trial in pain patients. I am incredibly excited about the prospect of making a difference in the lives of pain patients,” he said. “Another focus of our research is on stem cell therapy in regenerative endodontics. We are about two-thirds completed in one of the first multi-center clinical trials on regenerative endodontics.”

When asked what he wants ADA members to know about him, Dr. Hargreaves broadened the spotlight to include those around him.

“This recognition is humbling and represents the efforts of teams of colleagues, students and patients. They are the ones who truly allow us to make lives better.”