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National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research names Dr. Rena D’Souza next director

August 13, 2020

By Jennifer Garvin

Photo of NIDCR Rena DSouza
Dr. D'Souza
Bethesda, Md. — Dr. Rena D’Souza will be the next director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the National Institutes of Health announced Aug. 13.

Dr. D’Souza is currently the assistant vice president for academic affairs and education for health sciences at the University of Utah, where she also serves as a professor of dentistry, the Ole and Marty Jensen Chair of the School of Dentistry, and professor of neurobiology, anatomy, pathology and surgery in the School of Medicine and the Department of Biomedical Engineering, according to a University of Utah Health news release. As director, NIDCR said Dr. D’Souza will oversee the institute’s more than $475 million annual budget to support basic, translational and clinical research in dentistry, including oral complications of systemic diseases.

“The ADA is thrilled to learn that Dr. D’Souza has been named the new director of NIDCR,” said ADA President Chad P. Gehani. “I have known Dr. D’Souza since our dental school days. She is known for her hard work, sincerity and passion for research. Dr. D’Souza is a wonderful selection to lead and her research credentials are impeccable along with her dedication to the profession and dental education.”

NIH Director Frances Collins, M.D., Ph.D., praised Dr. D’Souza and welcomed her to the NIH leadership team.

“Dr. D’Souza is renowned for her research in craniofacial development, genetics, tooth development and regenerative dental medicine," Dr. Collins said. "She has worked as a proponent for NIH for decades, serving on critical advisory committees and as an expert consultant on multiple projects.”

“Since its inception in 1948, [NIDCR] has catalyzed scientific advances that have increased our understanding of the basic biological mechanisms of diseases and disorders and the application of such knowledge to improve oral health and the practice of dentistry,” Dr. D’Souza said. “This has given new meaning to oral health and its integral role in overall health across the life span. It is with a deep sense of calling that I accept the enormous privilege and responsibility to lead NIDCR into a new era of success. I cherish the experiences and the life-long friendships that I formed at the University of Utah as together, they have prepared me for this position.”

Dr. D’Souza has been a principal investigator on multiple NIH and other federal grants since 1987 and has published 140 peer-reviewed journal papers and book chapters, according to the Utah release, which said her research focuses on "developmental biology and genetics; matrix biology; biomaterials, tissue engineering, and stem cells; and clinical research." The school also credited her research group’s discovery that a novel mutation in PAX9 was responsible for the failure of teeth to develop with "opening a new field of research to discover genes and mutations as well as therapies for common human inherited disorders of the craniofacial complex."

Dr. D'Souza is a past president of both the American Association for Dental Research and International Association for Dental Research and a past recipient of the IADR Distinguished Scientist Award in Pulp Biology and AADR Distinguished Scientist Award — the highest-level awards for both organizations.

“The NIDCR and the greater dental, oral and craniofacial research community will greatly benefit from Dr. D’Souza’s leadership experience and passion for elevating science,” said AADR President Mark Herzberg in a news release. “We know she will strive to push the frontiers of science into the next generation of foundational knowledge, prevention, treatments and cures.”

Dr. D’Souza, who will start her position later this year, becomes the ninth director of NIDCR. Previous director Dr. Martha Somerman served from 2011-19 before retiring at the end of 2019.