Distinguished Scientist: Dr. Martha J. Somerman

The Distinguished Scientist Award is presented to an Academy member who has contributed to the basic and clinical science of periodontology through published literature and education. Dr. Martha J. Somerman, director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), is the 2016 AAP Distinguished Scientist honoree. For more than 35 years, Dr. Somerman’s contributions to research and learning have driven the advancement of periodontal care, specifically in the areas of periodontal regeneration, with a focus on identifying the key drivers of cementogenesis.

In addition to serving as chief investigator at the National Institute of Health’s (NIH’s) Laboratory of Oral Connective Tissue Biology, she is a Senior Advisor at the NIH Clinical Center, where she plays a key role in setting the vision for clinical research programs related to the dental, oral, and craniofacial complex. Her clinical research investigates how rare conditions associated with altered inflammatory responses and disruptive mineralized tissue function affect the periodontium.

Prior to entering her leadership role at the NIDCR—the nation’s top supporter of dental, oral, and craniofacial research—in 2011, Dr. Somerman was the dean of the University of Washington School of Dentistry. “Her commitment and dedication to mentoring the next generation of scientists has transformed the workforce and the future of dental science,” says Dr. Yong-Hee Patricia Chun, who, along with 2015 Distinguished Scientist honoree Dr. Laurie McCauley, nominated Dr. Somerman for this award. From 1991 to 2002, Dr. Somerman served as professor and chair of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry’s Department of Periodontics, Prevention and Geriatrics. During this time, Dr. Somerman provided research opportunities to a number of students, providing support and guidance to emerging scientists and practitioners. “Many of her over 130 mentees are now in leadership roles around the world,” Dr. Chun says. “It is clear: Dr. Somerman’s impact will be deep and long-lasting in our profession.”

In addition to serving on various committees, advisory boards, and as a journal editor, Dr. Somerman’s work has been published in more than 190 peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed journals, 17 book chapters, and three books. The Brooklyn native is a past president of the American Association of Dental Research and the 2011 recipient of the Paul Goldhaber Award from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

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