May 18, 2011

Dr. Martha Somerman named to receive Harvard dental schools highest honor

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Dr. Martha J. Somerman, dean of the UW School of Dentistry, has been chosen to receive the 2011 Paul Goldhaber Award from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard officials have announced.

The Goldhaber Award, the Harvard dental schools highest honor, goes to a recipient  “who is held in the highest international esteem in his or her field relating to oral and systemic health.” The award was established in 1989 to honor Dr. Paul Goldhaber, a periodontist and researcher, upon the completion of his 22 years as dean.

“This is such a significant award for me personally,” Somerman said. “I looked up to Dr. Goldhaber, and admired and respected him so much for all his achievements.” She recalled meeting him as a graduate student when he gave a guest lecture at the University of Rochesters Eastman Dental Center, where she earned her Ph.D. in pharmacology.

“The topic – the ability of caffeine to impact one of our key cell regulators – and his presentation were fascinating, and fortunately I was able to meet with him later on that day to discuss his research in more depth,” Somerman said. “I continued to communicate with Dr. Goldhaber and learned so much from him over the years, as an educator and as a researcher and as a remarkable, warm individual.”

Goldhaber, a major figure in modern dental education, conducted studies that paved the way for advances in bone biology and dental implants. His findings played a key role in the rise of tooth implantation as a routine dental procedure. A strong advocate of advanced dental education, he died in 2008 at the age of 84.

Somerman, an internationally respected researcher, educator and periodontist, has been dean of the School of Dentistry since 2002. She leaves the UW in August to become director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) of the National Institutes of Health. There she will lead NIDCRs scientific direction, policy development, program review and administrative management.

Somermans researches the regeneration of hard and soft tissues. She has won global recognition for her contributions to understanding the mechanisms and factors regulating the development, maintenance, and regeneration of oral-dental-craniofacial tissues. She has also made advances indetermining the appropriate cells, genes, and scaffolds required for re-engineering periodontal structures lost to disease. Her laboratory also studies regulators of osteoclast-osteoblast function in healthy and diseased periodontium.

Among her many honors, Somerman has been president of the American Association for Dental Research and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International College of Dentists, and the American College of Dentists. In 2010, she was a co-recipient of the first International Association for Dental Research/Straumann Award in Regenerative Periodontal Medicine. She has also received the Geis Award from the American Academy of Periodontology and the Distinguished Scientist Award for Research in Oral Biology from the International Association for Dental Research.

Somerman received her D.D.S. from New York University in 1975 and her certificate in periodontics from Eastman Dental Center in Rochester. She also completed a four-year fellowship at NIDCR that included both an investigative and a clinical component.