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November 14, 2019
Statement on the retirement of Dr. Martha Somerman
It is with sincere gratitude for her dedicated service that I announce the upcoming retirement of Martha J. Somerman, D.D.S., Ph.D., as Director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Martha has ably served as NIDCR Director for nine years. She will leave her Director position on December 31, 2019, but she will remain the Chief of the Laboratory of Oral Connective Tissue Biology at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Martha is the first woman to serve as Director of NIDCR, which has a unique research mission to improve dental, oral, and craniofacial health. Throughout her career, Martha has been a leader in defining factors that modulate formation of dental, oral, and craniofacial tissues, and applying that knowledge to designing evidence-based, predictable, targeted therapies to regenerate damaged or diseased tissue.
In 2016, Martha launched NIDCR 2030, which envisions a future where dental, oral, and craniofacial health and disease are understood in the context of the whole body. Related to the NIDCR 2030 priorities, Martha spearheaded a new research focus on autotherapies — prevention and treatment tactics that will take advantage of the body’s innate ability to repair and regenerate damaged or diseased tissues. Toward that end, she established the Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Tissue Regenerative Consortium (DOCTR-C) to move basic research results more quickly into treatments. Martha is a vocal advocate for research synergy, the importance of public-private collaborations, and the essential need for clinicians to be partners in the scientific enterprise.
Throughout her career, Martha remained passionately committed to training the next generation of oral health researchers. In 2018, she launched the NIDCR Director’s Postdoctoral Fellowship to Enhance Diversity in Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research. She was a pioneer in recognizing the need to support mid-career investigators when she initiated the NIDCR Award for Sustaining Outstanding Achievement in Research (SOAR) in 2017.
In addition to her substantial scientific and leadership activities, Martha has made it a priority to improve the oral health of the nation through her commitment to overcoming health inequity and advancing public health initiatives. She has been a leader in the dental community discussion about the use of opioids, and is proudly leading the development of the second Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health, which is expected to be released in 2020.
Martha’s intramural laboratory group focuses on identifying candidate genes and factors to promote periodontal regeneration. Her research team has shown that genes and associated factors that modulate the ratio of phosphate/pyrophosphate are critical for formation of the periodontal complex. Most recently, her group identified that such factors, when delivered to local sites in a mouse model of periodontal disease, promote formation of the periodontal complex. They are actively pursuing this research with the goal of entering clinical trials within the next few years.
Martha’s remarkable career is replete with awards and honors. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American College of Dentists, and International College of Dentists. In 2010, she was awarded the IADR/Straumann Award in Regenerative Periodontal Medicine and in 2016, she was awarded the Distinguished Scientist Award from the American Association of Periodontology. In 2018, she received the IADR Distinguished Scientist Award for Basic Research in Biological Mineralization.
It has been my privilege to work with Martha. She is an accomplished and caring clinical scientist who has provided dedicated scientific leadership to NIDCR. I wish Martha every happiness as she begins her next chapter.
While we conduct a national search for a new NIDCR Director, I have asked Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S, Ph.D., NIH Principal Deputy Director, to serve concomitantly as the Acting Director of NIDCR. Larry served previously as NIDCR Director, so he knows the Institute well.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health