UBC grad perio student wins highly regarded Volpe Prize

Periodontics graduate student Dr. Rana Tarzemany won the prestigious Volpe Prize for the best clinical research in periodontology by students in dentistry. This is the first time a student from a Canadian school has won the award, which is sponsored by Ohio State University and Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Tarzemany is undertaking a PhD in Craniofacial Science combined with a diploma in Periodontics at UBC Dentistry. Her graduate supervisor is Dr. Lari Häkkinen, associate professor in the Department of Oral Biological & Medical Sciences.

Dr. Rana Tarzemany and Dr. Anthony Volpe.

Dr. Rana Tarzemany and Dr. Anthony Volpe.

The prize is named for Dr. Anthony Volpe, an internationally acclaimed clinical dental researcher who is responsible for Colgate’s worldwide clinical research program. The competition is open to periodontics students from Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States. Each dental academic institution may submit one student project for review.

A panel of five judges selects 12 finalists. Two finalists were from Canada this year (UBC and the University of Toronto). Each finalist provides a 15-minute oral presentation based on their abstract, followed by a 10-minute question-and-answer period. Finalists gathered for presentations on July 10, 2015, at Ohio State University in Columbus. The title of Tarzemany’s abstract was “Expression and Function of Connexin 43 in Human Gingival Wound Healing and Fibroblasts.”

By using various histological, cellular and molecular biological techniques, Tarzemany discovered that connexin 43, a molecule mediating cell-to-cell communication, may play an important role in connective tissue fibroblasts to promote human gingival wound healing.

Furthermore, modulating specific functions of this molecule may provide future targets to alleviate tissue fibrosis, a common outcome in, for instance, skin wound healing.

“I heard from participating judges,” Häkkinen remarks, “that this year the quality of the research and presentations was very high—some say the highest ever during the 10 years the competition has existed—which further emphasizes how well Rana did.”

The Volpe Prize is awarded based on a combination of factors, chief among them the importance and quality of research, how it is presented by the student in an oral presentation, and the knowledge of the student about the research topic, as judged by a questioning period after the presentation.

Dr. Rana Tarzemany, graduate periodontics student, in the lab at UBC Dentistry.

Dr. Rana Tarzemany, graduate periodontics student, in the lab at UBC Dentistry.

Rana Tarzemany, graduate periodontics student, received her Doctor of Dental Surgery from the Islamic Azad University Dental School, Tehran, Iran, in 2009. She is culturing human fibroblasts for her studies at UBC on the role of connexins in regulating fibroblast function in wound healing.

Rana won a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute Community Support Travel Award to attend the 2013 International Association of Dental Research meeting in Seattle, Washington. She also won a PhD student award in the 2013 UBC Dentistry Research Day poster competition.

Her most recent award is the Volpe Prize in July 2015.