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Grants Provide Opportunities for Junior Scientists

Written by Adam Zewe

Due to a groundbreaking grant program, junior scientists have an opportunity to pursue their research through the Department of Neural and Pain Sciences. Postdoctoral Fellow Dongyuan Cao, PhD, and Assistant Professor David Seminowicz, PhD, each earned $10,000 awards. School of Medicine Assistant Professor Junfang Wu, PhD, also received a $10,000 grant.

The grants, awarded through the Organized Research Center on Persistent Pain, provide aspiring researchers with seed money to begin studies. A committee reviews applications and chooses winners based on the scientific merit of the project. "We want to help the junior faculty here conduct preliminary research that will make them competitive for funds from national organizations," states Center Director Ron Dubner, PhD.

The funding is a welcome surprise for Dr. Cao, who will study how irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects temporomandibular disorders (TMD). Sixty percent of IBS patients suffer from TMD and both diseases can have debilitating effects. "Receiving this grant has encouraged me to work even harder," he remarks.

The grant allows Dr. Seminowicz to collaborate with Assistant Professor Mark Scheper, PhD, on a study of burning mouth syndrome. The disease impacts less than 1 percent of the population. Dr. Seminowicz explains that this syndrome is unique because patients develop oral pain throughout the day. This presents a rare opportunity to study how brain changes are influenced by persistent pain. "Anything we can do to help these patients will be a good thing," he says.

Throughout the past decade, these grants have assisted many talented scientists. Award recipients include: Department Chairman Dr. Joel Greenspan and Associate Professor Dr. Sharon Gordon, who was recently named distinguished scientist of the year by the International Association for Dental Research. Dr. Dubner hopes the program will offer even more awards, helping a new generation of UMSOD investigators become leaders in chronic pain research.

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