The Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, an F30 fellowship from the NIH, is designed to support highly promising predoctoral students in a dual-doctoral degree training program to increase the pool of highly trained clinician-scientists in biomedical research. Lee is the first student in the UofL School of Dentistry to receive an F30 award.

“For Jae to receive this award speaks highly of our program and our faculty, particularly his mentor, Richard Lamont. It places UofL’s program among the top research dental schools in the United States,” said John Sauk, D.D.S., dean of the UofL School of Dentistry.

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Lee graduated from high school in 2011 with two years of college credit and completed his bachelor’s degree two years later. His aptitude for scientific research and his desire to have a positive impact on society led him to apply for the dual degree program at UofL School of Dentistry.

“In high school I was mostly interested in basic science,” Lee said. “Gradually, I also became interested in pursuing something with more of an immediate and direct impact on the general public, which is the clinical aspect. I also enjoy crafting things and working with my hands. The program in dentistry and research combines the best of these fields.”

Not only will the award assist Lee financially, but the panel of reviewers has affirmed the validity of his research plan. Lee is investigating two bacteria that appear to combine to cause periodontitis, a gum disease that affects approximately half of adults over age 35 in the United States. He is examining whether proteins that reside on Porphyromonas gingivalis and Streptococcus gordonii bind and interact to cause the disease. Lee believes that an understanding of those processes ultimately may lead to new treatments for periodontitis.

“Jae obviously is a very dedicated student. He is very intelligent and he works really hard. He thinks about the bigger picture, which can be difficult for students,” said Richard Lamont, PhD, chair of the Department of Oral Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the UofL School of Dentistry, who mentors Lee in his research project in oral microbiology.

Lee, who is beginning his third year of the seven-year combined program, has completed one year of research and one year of dental school. He is at the research bench for the next two years to work on his project before he heads back to dental school for the final three years of clinical study.

The quality of the faculty and research facilities at the UofL School of Dentistry were important considerations for the NIH in awarding the grant to Lee.

“They are not interested solely in my research but they want me to be trained well as a clinician-scientist, so they are also looking at other aspects, such as ‘Does he have enough support from the department?’ ‘Is the equipment in the lab adequate?’ ‘Will he be taking sufficient classes?’” Lee said. “Louisville has the best facilities I have ever seen. Not just the school of dentistry, but Dr. Lamont’s lab has all the equipment that I need to do my research.”

“These NIH Fellowships are intended for only the most talented students, so it’s a real feather in the cap to have an F30 in the School of Dentistry,” said Douglas Darling, Ph.D., director of the Oral Biology Graduate Program at the UofL School of Dentistry.

Lee hopes to pursue a career that includes both research and clinical care.

“If this project works out well, hopefully I can continue this research in my post-dental school years and move on to translational research or even clinical trials,” Lee said. “My ultimate goal is to have my own laboratory at a dental school and do clinical work treating patients as well as doing basic science research.”

Betty Coffman
Betty Coffman is a Communications Coordinator focused on research and innovation at UofL. A UofL alumna and Louisville native, she served as a writer and editor for local and national publications and as an account services coordinator and copywriter for marketing and design firms prior to joining UofL’s Office of Communications and Marketing.