NIDCR Seeks Comments on FY16 Research Themes

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) is seeking public input on their proposed research initiatives for fiscal year (FY) 2016.  These themes are used during the annual budget development and in communication with NIH, the Department of HHS and Congress about future research goals.  The proposed research themes include the following:

  • Effects of E-cigarette aerosol mixtures on oral and periodontal epithelia
  • Immune system plasticity in the pathogenesis and treatment of complex dental, oral and craniofacial diseases
  • Novel or enhanced dental restorative materials for Class V lesions
  • Oral HIVacc: Oral Musocal Immunization Approaches for HIV Prevention
  • Pharmacogenomics of orofacial pain management

How can you provide input? AADR members are strongly encouraged to provide feedback and input. You can either submit individual comments to NIDCR directly at by September 12, 2014 or send them to Carolyn Mullen by September 5, 2014 to include as part of AADR’s comments on the research themes.

NIDCR Director’s Dear Colleague Letter

Dear Colleagues:
As part of the budget planning process for Fiscal Year 2016, NIDCR is identifying topical themes for development into research initiatives. During this process, we welcome input from our scientific advisory boards, the extramural community, interested organizations, and the public at large.

What are Initiatives?

Initiatives are a vehicle used by the Institutes and Centers to communicate future research goals to NIH, the Department of Health and Human Services, and Congress. NIDCR begins the initiative development process each year by identifying broad research topic areas, or themes. We then develop a specific initiative proposal for each theme, taking into consideration the input received. Themes identified for FY 2016 are listed below.

Please remember that initiatives are not a complete picture of the Institute’s planned research portfolio for the year indicated, nor do they signal that themes highlighted the previous year have been abandoned. Several initiatives from last year have become formal funding opportunities and are posted on NIDCR’s website​. Others are still under development. Proposed FY 2016 Initiatives will be integrated into this larger landscape as they are considered for funding.

How can you provide input?

Please send your comments and suggestions related to these specific theme areas directly to us If you want to suggest additional topic areas, or comment on the process for developing research initiatives, please send those suggestions to the same email address. Please submit all comments no later than Friday, September 12, 2014.

Thank you for your interest and input. I look forward to hearing from you.


Martha J. Somerman, D.D.S., Ph.D.
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

Proposed NIDCR FY 2016 Research Themes (alphabetical by title)

Effects of E-cigarette Aerosol Mixtures on Oral and Periodontal Epithelia

Electronic cigarettes (ECs) are battery-operated devices with a metal heating element inside that vaporizes a solution containing a mixture of chemicals, including nicotine, natural flavors, and other additives. According to latest data, ECs are increasing in popularity in the United States. Twenty percent of adult smokers reported trying ECs in 2011, while EC use among middle school and high school children doubled to 7 percent in 2012. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration began to establish rules to regulate the marketing of ECs as tobacco products.

With the growing social acceptance of ECs as an alternative smoking product, an urgent need exists to determine their true biological effects on oral tissues. Currently, the effects of long term exposure to ECs are completely unknown and present a potential oral cancer and periodontal disease risk for users, due to their higher exposure to these chemical mixtures. This initiative will encourage studies to assess the effects of EC-associated aerosol mixtures on oral and periodontal epithelial cells. It will support the comprehensive identification of chemicals produced by ECs and the analysis of effects on oral and periodontal epithelia using in vitro and/or in vivo model systems including cell proliferation, cell death, development of cancer, and factors that maintain oral homeostasis, such as cytokines. This initiative will also emphasize the use of novel 3D culture systems of the oral mucosa and other clinically-relevant model systems.

Immune System Plasticity in the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Complex Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Diseases

It is becoming clear that the immune system plays a major role in the initial onset and development of many dental, oral, and craniofacial diseases. Normalizing the responses of immune factors and their modulators could therefore be a promising therapeutic approach for these diseases. However, critical scientific gaps exist regarding our understanding of the relationship between the immune system and the mechanisms of disease development. NIDCR will support an initiative to elucidate more fully the role of the immune system in dental, oral, and craniofacial diseases. It also will explore how infectious agents, cancers, and other biological triggers attempt to short-circuit host immunity. Potential research areas include: systems approaches to understand innate and adaptive immunity in health and disease; new and improved large animal models to mimic human disease; new tools and technologies to precisely modulate the immune system to combat disease; increased understanding of the key molecules and pathways controlling disease; and development of clinically-applicable strategies to treat and prevent these diseases and conditions. The knowledge gained from this research should also lead to the development of therapies that are based on modifying the immune system. These therapies will leverage normal host immunity to prevent or reverse dental, oral, craniofacial disease and conditions. NIDCR will potentially partner with other NIH institutes and centers that share an investigative interest in these diseases.

Novel or Enhanced Dental Restorative Materials for Class V Lesions

As people age, their gingivae tend to recede and progressively expose more of the tooth to bacteria. This can lead to decay on the tooth root (root caries) and a need for a Class V restoration, meaning the filling is placed in the bottom third of the exposed tooth. Unfortunately, Class V restorations often fail in five years or less due to a confluence of factors. These include:

  • The sealed margins, or edges, of these fillings typically extend below the gingiva where they are difficult to keep clean, susceptible to attack from bacteria, and at risk of degradation. If the margin loses its seal, renewed decay often occurs.
  • Because the enamel at the base of the tooth is often gone, dentists must bond Class V restorations to the remaining underlying dentin and cementum, which weaken at higher pH levels than enamel, making the bond more problematic and prone to failure than elsewhere in the tooth. When chewing, the force of the bite transfers to the bottom third of the tooth, or exactly where the Class V restoration resides. This can take a physical toll on the filling, hastening its breakdown and, in many cases, further damaging the structure of the remaining tooth and supporting tissues.

Because of these challenges, NIDCR will support an initiative to develop a next-generation Class V restoration that will help more Americans protect their teeth and surrounding tissues as they get older. This fundamental design change in the Class V restoration aims to upgrade the integrity of the restorative margins while enhancing its durability. The new design should continue to be biocompatible and aesthetically pleasing, and easier to place than current Class V restorations. As part of this initiative, materials scientists will form multidisciplinary research teams to bring greater investigative power to bear on this difficult and complex research challenge.

Oral HIVacc: Oral Mucosal Immunization Approaches for HIV Prevention

Antiretroviral therapy continues to improve the survival and quality of life for millions of people infected with HIV. However, a vaccine to prevent HIV infection remains an important priority. Because oral immune tissue is an effective and easily accessible immunization route, NIDCR has focused for several years on supporting science to develop an effective oral HIV vaccine. This initiative will develop and test novel HIV vaccines for direct administration into oral lymphoid tissues to trigger protective, local, and systemic immunity. Potential areas of investigation include: defining how the HIV vaccine induces immunity; testing new HIV vaccine vectors and antigens; comparing different HIV vaccine immunization strategies; and studying the role of changes in the oral and immune cells upon oral HIV vaccination. This initiative will also encourage research to develop HIV vaccine formulations with or without immune boosting agents for direct oral lymphoid tissue inoculation and preclinical testing in animal models.

Pharmacogenomics of Orofacial Pain Management

Millions of Americans this year will experience a disabling acute or chronic pain in their jaw, tongue, gingiva, tooth, or elsewhere in the orofacial complex. Many will opt for over-the-counter or prescription drugs to try and alleviate the pain. But their success in controlling the pain may be written in part into their genes. Researchers now know that genetic variation influences an individual’s innate sensitivity to pain and their susceptibility to developing a chronic pain condition. Individuals also metabolize medications differently, which can influence their therapeutic response or adverse reactions. These genetic and other emerging biological variables hold the keys to developing more personalized – and effective – strategies in the future to control orofacial pain.


NIDCR will launch an effort to better define the common genetic variables that influence our response to strategies for managing orofacial pain. This initiative spurs research aiming to characterize this pharmacogenomic variation, with a focus on identifying unique molecular signatures, or telltale expression patterns of genes or proteins that could one day help to predict a person’s response to a pain medication. As a part of this effort, clinicians and basic scientists will form multidisciplinary teams, to pursue the initiative’s patient-centric goals. Although this research theme focuses on orofacial pain, it may also catalyze new pharmacogenomic studies for the broader pain research community. NIDCR will partner with member institutes of the Pain Consortium to help develop the initiative’s funding announcements.​​


Please note, when identifying themes for potential funding initiatives, NIDCR takes many factors into account. These factors include: scientific opportunity, alignment with the mission and goals of the Institute’s strategic plans, robustness of the existing portfolio in a particular theme area, both currently and in the year under consideration, and current budgetary climate.