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NIH names Rena D’Souza to direct National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

Published: August 14, 2020 by Rhonda Whitmeyer

Dr. Rena D'Souza, a graduate of both UTSD and GSBS, has been named director of the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research.
Dr. Rena D'Souza, a graduate of both UTSD and GSBS, has been named director of the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research.

An alumna of UTHealth School of Dentistry at Houston and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences has been named director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health. 

NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, announced the selection of Rena N. D’Souza, MS, DDS, PhD, as NIDCR director on Aug. 13. The NIDCR is the nation’s leading funder of research on oral, dental, and craniofacial health. 

D’Souza earned a bachelor’s degree in dental surgery from the University of Bombay, India, after which she completed a general practice residency. At UTHealth, she graduated from the School of Dentistry in 1985, and earned a master’s degree in biomedical sciences (1984) and doctorate in pathology (1987) from GSBS. 

A licensed dentist, D’Souza is currently assistant vice president for academic affairs and education for health sciences at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. There she also serves as a professor of dentistry, the Ole and Marty Jensen Chair of the School of Dentistry and professor of neurobiology and anatomy, pathology and surgery in the School of Medicine and the Department of Biomedical Engineering. She is expected to begin her new role as NIDCR director later this year. 

“Dr. D’Souza is renowned for her research in craniofacial development, genetics, tooth development and regenerative dental medicine,” 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. I look forward to having her join the NIH leadership team later this year.” 

Collins also thanked NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, for his valuable leadership as acting director of NIDCR since Jan. 1, 2020. 

As NIDCR director, D’Souza will oversee the institute’s annual budget of over $475 million, which supports basic, translational and clinical research in areas of oral cancer, orofacial pain, tooth decay, periodontal disease, salivary gland dysfunction, craniofacial development and disorders and the oral complications of systemic diseases. The institute funds approximately 770 grants, 6,500 researchers and 200 organizations. Additionally, NIDCR supports research training and career development programs for approximately 350 people at various stages of their careers, from high school students to independent scientists. 

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. Her research focuses on developmental biology and genetics; matrix biology; biomaterials, tissue engineering and stem cells; and clinical research. Her group’s discovery that a novel mutation in PAX9 was responsible for a severe form of human tooth agenesis opened a new field of research to discover genes and mutations, as well as therapies for common human inherited disorders of the craniofacial complex. 

D’Souza’s career honors are significant. She was selected to be the inaugural dean of the University of Utah’s School of Dentistry, which was established in 2012. She is currently the elected chair in the Dentistry and Oral Health Sciences Section and was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

She also is a former president of the American Association for Dental Research and the International Association for Dental Research, a fellow of the American College of Dentists, and the recipient of the 2017 American Association for Dental Research Irwin D. Mandel Distinguished Mentoring Award. Dr. D’Souza served on the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director in 2013-14, and on NIH study sections.

She is a devoted mentor and champion of diversity in the biomedical research workforce. Since 1985, she has served as a volunteer dentist for women in need and people struggling with homelessness in Salt Lake City, Dallas and Houston.


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