Kimon Divaris, PhD, DDS, Adams Distinguished Professor and professor of pediatric dentistry, has been named the 2022 recipient of the Burton C. Borgelt Faculty Advisory Award.
The award, presented by the Board of Directors of the Student Competition for Advancing Dental Research and its Application (SCADA), honors a faculty advisor who has distinguished themself as an oral health scientist and who has significantly impacted the lives of dental students as a mentor.
“I have had the opportunity to witness Dr. Divaris’ devotion to dental research and, specifically, to dental student research,” said Shannon Wallet, PhD, associate dean for research, discovery and innovation. “Kimon helps our student research group not only carry out their mission but also helps the students grow as leaders and scientists and supports their endeavors to pursue careers in academia. He is also a productive oral and genetic epidemiologist at the cutting edge of his field, where he continues to bring about a measurable impact on the public health/health services research/health disparities and the genomics of oral health. He could not be more deserving of this award.”
In addition to being an outstanding mentor, Divaris is also an internationally recognized scholar whose research focuses on the diverse causes and biological aspects of early childhood dental disease. Divaris has more than 130 published works, most recently including a co-authored paper entitled “Fibrin is a critical regulator of neutrophil effector function at the oral mucosal barrier” in Science.
In this paper, Divaris and his collaborators from the intramural branch of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research identified a previously unrecognized role for fibrin in inflammation of the oral mucosa (or the ‘skin’ inside the mouth) and periodontitis, also known as gum disease. Fibrin is a known clotting factor and is traditionally thought to work within blood vessels; however, the study shows that fibrin also develops in the oral mucosa in response to each person’s microbiome. The fibrin sparks inflammation by recruiting and activating neutrophils, which are immune cells known to underlie periodontal tissue destruction.
The multi-year project involved human observational studies, as well as in vitro and in vivo and experiments. Its results, for the first time, show that fibrin deposits are indispensable not only for the recruitment but for full activation of neutrophils, and that homeostasis is maintained by the continuous deposition and degradation of fibrin, which keeps inflammation in check. Beyond its implications for the treatment of periodontitis, the study also adds to the emerging links between coagulation and the immune system, and creates possibilities for the study of similar phenomena in other organs and systems, as well as the development of anti-inflammatory therapies that exploit the fibrin-neutrophil axis.
“Receiving the Burton C. Borgelt/SCADA national research advising award is a tremendous honor; I am humbled and grateful,” said Divaris. “Mentoring is at the center of what we do every day, whether in the classroom, the clinic or the lab. It is also what has brought us where we are today. I have personally benefitted from inspirational and gracious mentors throughout my career and now, being in a position where I can give back and pass it on by mentoring others at the Adams School of Dentistry, is everything I could have asked for. I firmly believe that creating a positive, inclusive and intellectually stimulating environment and creating opportunities where high-quality mentorship can take place are the best strategies to advance science and improve human health. We need the new generation of oral health professionals to be, more than ever, critically thinking, curious, innovative and disruptive; there is no better way to get there than being involved in research and discovery during one’s training.”
In addition to this recognition by SCADA, Divaris has been honored by many other organizations during his career. Those honors include receiving the International Association of Dental Research (IADR) Distinguished Scientist Award – Young Investigator; the IADR Centennial Emerging Leader Award; and the Southeastern Society of Pediatric Dentistry’s Dr. Frank Farrington Service and Leadership Award. At UNC, he has been recognized with the UNC Adams Beyond Excellence Award, the UNC Adams Four Corners Study Club Faculty Mentoring Award, and the Class of 1958 Award. He is a fellow of AADOCR, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the International College of Dentists.
Divaris earned his dental degree in 2005 from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens School of Dentistry, Athens, Greece. In 2011, he completed his pediatric dentistry residency training, a doctorate in epidemiology and a graduate certificate in global health, all at UNC-Chapel Hill.