Heather M. Hendricks, a third-year dental student at UNC-Chapel Hill, was announced as the recipient of a 2011 American Association of Dental Research (AADR) Student Research Fellowship at the 89th annual IADR meeting held in San Diego this year. Each year the AADR chooses a small group of students from a nationwide pool to receive the coveted fellowship. Heather was one of 19 recipients selected this year and the only awardee from UNC School of Dentistry. She also presented a poster at this year’s IADR/AADR meeting on the same topic of her fellowship.
Hendricks commented that she applied for the fellowship because she wanted to push herself towards a standard of excellence. “I enjoy research because it allows me to be an active participant in my own learning and explore the ‘ins-and-outs’ of solving scientific mysteries. As a result I am able to be more proactive, and in some cases, actually add to the pool of knowledge. Spending a lot of hours at RTP and delving deeper into reading the literature on eruption whetted my appetite for continuing my studies. My participation in research started while I was an undergraduate at Iowa; it is safe to say that my ‘itch’ to understand is here to stay.”
Hendricks’ research project, “Defining Primary Failure of Eruption: Genetic and Phenotypic Analysis,” examines the heritable basis of the clinical condition where permanent teeth fail to erupt. Primary Failure of Eruption (PFE) was first described by Proffit and Vig in 1981 and continues to be investigated by the Frazier-Bowers lab with the added genetic perspective. This problem is frustrating for both the patient and practitioner, but in the future, advances in genetic diagnosis may change the way dentists (especially orthodontists) manage this disorder.
In her research, Hendricks studied the molecular basis of this heritable condition using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and DNA sequencing methods. Her initial study results indicated that specific genetic alterations in one gene, PTH1R, are potentially associated with PFE but warrants further investigation. The funding from the AADR fellowship will allow her to expand the research questions to include an investigation of a broader sample size and additional candidate genes.
Dr. Sylvia Frazier-Bowers, associate professor of orthodontics is Hendricks’ research advisor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry and remarked that not so long ago PFE was believed not to be a genetic problem. “Heather’s efforts provide a valuable contribution to our current understanding of the specific relationship between alterations in the PTH1R gene and PFE,” Frazier-Bowers noted. She also stressed the important role that Hendricks’ college research experiences played in her preparation for this opportunity. “This fellowship is a reflection of Heather’s scientific acumen, hard work, and enthusiasm.”
The AADR Student Research Fellowship is supported by several major industrial companies and organizations, as well as by AADR Group Chapters, Sections (including the NC-AADR), and members to encourage dental students to participate in oral health research. Hendricks’ award, sponsored by 3M Dental Products, comes with a stipend, supply budget and funding for travel to the next AADR meeting.