The Office of Global Affairs is excited to celebrate Dr. Ana Lucia Seminario for our December 2022 edition of the Global Visionaries series. The Global Visionaries series highlights the University of Washington’s global impact by featuring innovative, globally-engaged faculty, staff, and students.
Dr. Ana Lucia Seminario, Director, UW Timothy A. DeRouen Center for Global Oral Health, Associate Professor, Pediatric Dentistry, Adjunct Associate Professor, Global Health describes her vision for advancing global oral health in Thailand, Kenya, Peru, and Washington State through collaborative, sustainable, and cross-disciplinary research partnerships.
Dr. Seminario obtained her DDS and Pediatric Dentistry certificate from Cayetano Heredia University (Peru) before earning her PhD in Stomatology from Charles University (Czech Republic) and MPH in Epidemiology from the University of Washington. She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry and is also Director of UW International Visiting (Pediatric) Dentist Program and on staff at Seattle Children’s Hospital Dental Medicine.
I am originally from Chiclayo, a city in the northwest of Peru. After finishing high school, I moved to Lima, where I earned my DDS degree and Pediatric Dentistry certificate from the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia. I then pursued a fantastic opportunity to participate in a four-month fellowship in public health at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, where I learned about the importance of understanding how policies impact public health at community and country levels. I decided to stay in Prague for an additional four years to complete my PhD in Stomatology. From there I had the chance to participate in two fellowships; the first one at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and the second one at the World Health Organization Oral Health Program in Geneva, Switzerland.
After finishing my doctorate program, I moved to Seattle, Washington and began my life in the United States. I was accepted to the Summer Institute in Clinical Dental Research Methods, a six-week training program hosted by the University of Washington School of Dentistry. I fell in love with the summer weather in Seattle. I remember it was the middle of July and I was so impressed by the beauty of Mount Rainier and the Puget Sound. After the Summer Institute, I was recruited by Timothy DeRouen and enrolled in the T32 program that is part of the National Institutes of Health training for postdocs. I was also recruited by the University of Washington Department of Pediatric Dentistry to be an affiliate faculty, later becoming part-time faculty, and eventually full-time faculty. In 2008, I decided to pursue an MPH in Epidemiology from the University of Washington. It was an incredible opportunity for my professional growth as the program is very strong in research methodology and evidence-based research and gave me the chance to mentor residents on their research projects.
In 2017, I was asked to lead and rebrand the UW Timothy A. DeRouen Center for Global Oral Health, which was named in honor of Timothy DeRouen, the first researcher to receive a NIH D43 grant for oral health from the National Institutes of Health. This type of grant aims at increasing research capacities in low- and middle-income countries by creating training opportunities like master or doctorate degrees. One of the first things I did as Director of the DeRouen Center was to examine our existing global relationships. I decided to expand our activities beyond Thailand and Southeast Asia to include Kenya, Peru, and Washington State.
My vision is for the DeRouen Center for Global Oral Health and the University of Washington to become a reference site for global oral health. I am striving for us to become a World Health Organization collaborative center for oral health in the future. It takes a lot of time to build trust among partners and we want to make sure that we have a sustainable impact at all of our research sites. Our long-term goal is for our international partner sites to become the headquarters for oral health research activities in their respective regions around the world.
In my opinion, it is imperative that our research is determined by the priorities of each of our research locations. We take the lead from the communities we are working in, which aligns with the University of Washington’s approach for engaging with low- and middle-income countries. We intentionally work to ensure that our research projects will be sustainable over time. We are excited that our partners, especially the senior collaborators, are working hard to mentor junior oral health researchers and offer training and educational opportunities so that they can become future leaders, such as National Institutes of Health Principal Investigators and grant holders.
In Kenya, we began working with Professor Arthur Kemoli, a pediatric dentist and orthodontist based at the United Nations. We started this work focusing on how we could integrate oral health within the HIV network. We are helping the families of children who are living with HIV, or who have been exposed to HIV, to better understand oral health and how that impacts the quality of life of their children. We initiated different projects and got several grants to work with the Kenyatta National Hospital. Currently we are also working in Kisumu in Western Kenya where I will be visiting for two weeks in February 2023 for the kickoff of our clinical trial. Additionally, we have an NIH D71 planning grant to set up a research site and will be conducting interviews and facilitating focus groups too.
In Peru, we are working with the Peruvian Ministry of Health. They would like to increase the capabilities of oral health leaders who work in the 24 regions of Peru to
develop sustainable interventions. We conducted a six-month training session that finished a few months ago. We are now serving in an advisory role as they design a five-year campaign to improve the oral health of elderly people living with diabetes.
We also have a National Institutes of Health grant, in collaboration with Yale University, concerning the impact of alcohol use disorders on the oral health of men who have sex with men in Lima. This is a new research area for us. We have just collected the data and are starting to analyze it. We are excited to be working with the local research site, a long-time member of the International National Institutes of Health vaccine network, on their first project focused on oral health.
In Thailand, we originally focused on increasing the research capacity of oral health researchers. The emphasis was on research methodology and on supporting junior faculty who were pursuing MPH and PhD programs in combination with the University of Washington and who would eventually take on leadership roles as Associate Deans or professors to conduct and oversee future research projects. Current research in Thailand is based on our former trainees and now oral health researchers, for example oral clefts, given the high prevalence rates in the region, or on the impact of breastfeeding on dental caries in toddlers.
In Washington State, we want to integrate oral health within the comprehensive medical assessment that refugees receive soon after they resettle here. We have been working closely with the Department of Health, the Department of Community and Human Services, and the Washington State Health Care Authority since they are very interested in improving the health of refugees. Currently, seven clinics are allowed by Washington State to conduct the comprehensive medical assessment that each refugee must complete after their arrival.
We have been working with those seven clinics to better understand their systems and processes. We have identified their barriers and strengths so we can inform them how best to integrate oral health. Our ultimate goal is to use our data to advocate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the integration of oral health at all seven clinics in Washington State when assessing the health of refugees. We also hope to educate and inform refugees in Washington State about their Medicaid benefits, given that refugee children have full access to any oral health treatment and refugee adults have access to basic dental care.
A highlight of my career has been serving as Director of the DeRouen Center for Global Oral Health. I feel very lucky to work at the University of Washington. I have found the UW to be very welcoming to an immigrant like myself. I am incredibly grateful that the UW is an institution that promotes cross-disciplinary collaboration. I have found that the university encourages faculty to interact with colleagues from different schools, departments, and colleges to build sustainable relationships and research partnerships that result in rich, robust, and diverse perspectives.
Other highlights include watching my mentees become authors of manuscripts. It amazes me to see my mentees grow professionally. I am also proud of the relationships I have maintained with my colleagues and former professors in Peru. I have been fortunate in many ways and feel that it is my responsibility to give back, whether that be through helping to set up grants in communities across Peru or by working with my mentees to assist them in becoming Principal Investigators. I recently got the opportunity to travel to Peru and reconnect with my former professors. It was delightful to reflect on everything that we have accomplished in our respective academic networks over the years.