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USC researchers seek to understand craniofacial abnormalities

By Dental Tribune International
September 04, 2019

LOS ANGELES, U.S.: Most birth defects involve the face and skull and scientists are still unable to explain this phenomenon. The University of Southern California (USC) has recently received a substantial grant for a project that is aimed at collecting data, DNA samples and images related to abnormalities of the head and facial bones. The research data will help gain a better understanding of the issue and foster interdisciplinary collaboration between medical experts.

Orofacial clefts are fairly common birth defects. If the cleft extends through the upper gingivae, it may affect tooth development. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research awarded the USC Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering a $12.5 million (€11.4 million) grant for their project FaceBase III Data Management and Integration Hub. The project will connect experts who have thorough knowledge and expertise in the area, and its aim is to help improve treatment outcomes.

“To accelerate the science and better serve families at risk for these conditions, we need a comprehensive and systematic understanding of how faces form in healthy children and what goes wrong to cause common malformations,” said Dr. Yang Chai, George and MaryLou Boone Professor of Craniofacial Molecular Biology, Director of the Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology and Associate Dean of Research at the dental school.

The FaceBase project consists of three phases. The first phase was launched in 2009 and focused on the middle region of the face, which includes the nose and mouth, and examined genetic developmental disorders. The second phase started in 2014 and focused on the expansion of the database to include other genetic disorders and on the development of the craniofacial complex. The third and final phase seeks to effectively organize data collection and storage and encourage researchers to share their findings.

“We’re trying to create a community of researchers around the exchange and organization of data, and transform the way craniofacial research is done,” said Prof. Carl Kesselman, Dean’s Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Computer Science, and Preventive Medicine at the engineering school. “This could be an exemplar. Not many dental schools have access to the largest computer science research institute in the country,” he concluded.

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