OHSU School of Dentistry Faculty Receive National Awards

06/17/08  Portland, Ore.

Two OHSU School of Dentistry faculty recently received prestigious national awards

Kirsten Lampi, M.S., Ph.D., associate professor of integrative biosciences, recently received the 2008 Cataract Research Award from the National Foundation for Eye Research. Lampi was recognized at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology meeting held in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. She received a plaque and check for $2,500. The award is given bi-annually to one outstanding young lens investigator.

"I'm honored and excited," said Lampi. "This is the only national award specific to lens research." Lampi's research focuses on the effects of deamidation - a kind of protein modification - on beta-crystallins, structural proteins found in the lens of the eye, necessary for maintaining lens transparency. She has shown that deamidation decreases protein stability leading to aggregation, a potential mechanism for cataracts.

"Cataracts are an example of a protein aggregation disease. Other aggregation diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's or Parkinson's may have similar mechanisms," said Lampi. "The more we can learn from cataracts - a more readily accessible tissue than the brain - hopefully the more advances we can make in all protein aggregation diseases."

An interesting relevance to dentistry is that scientists can also predict the chronological age of humans and animals by measuring the deamidation levels in teeth.  This is used in forensic science, said Lampi.

"Dr. Lampi's research award is very prestigious for OHSU," said Dean Jack Clinton, D.M.D. "It means that our dental students are receiving their basic science education from top-notch researchers that are internationally recognized scientists."

David Morton
, Ph.D., professor of integrative biosciences, recently received the "Outstanding Researcher Award" in the biological sciences from the Columbia-Willamette Chapter of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society. Morton studies genetics and biochemistry using fruit flies. Morton also just received a one-year, $40,000 grant from the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease) Association to study a fruit fly gene that is related to a human gene associated with ALS. Morton and his team have discovered how to alter the fruit fly gene so that it suffers from neurodegeneration.

"By studying in more depth the fruit fly gene, named TBPH, and the human gene associated with ALS, named TDP43, we hope to better understand the basic biology of both genes and how they function," said Morton. Such an understanding, he said, may someday lead to a treatment, or even cure, for ALS and other neurological conditions.