Breaking Ground in Oral Health

Millions of Americans suffer from severe salivary issues due to cancer radiation therapy, HIV/AIDS or autoimmune disorders. For those patients, UMKC alumna Jane Atkinson (D.D.S. ’81) is at the forefront of treatment research in her role at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). As director of the Center for Clinical Research at the NIDCR, Atkinson’s work seeks improved treatment for oral diseases.

Atkinson, with an expansive career spanning private practice, research, education and clinical settings, will be honored as the 2017 UMKC School of Dentistry Alumni Achievement Award winner.

“Our Center aims to help foster product development, determine how best to treat oral diseases in underserved populations and develop the next generation of clinical trial investigators in oral and craniofacial health research,” she says.

At the Center for Clinical Research, Atkinson also directs many of the large clinical studies conducted by those who are funded by the NIDCR such as the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network.

Atkinson discovered her love for research in 1985, when she began an Oral Medicine/Clinical Research Training Program at the National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR). At this time, the center focused its research on people with Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that affects nearly 4 million Americans, patients with HIV, and patients who had endured head and neck radiation for cancer therapy. All have one factor in common: they often face severe salivary problems.

“Once I had the opportunity to do research, I realized I wanted to have a professional life that allowed me to satisfy that curiosity,” Atkinson says.

Atkinson left the NIDR for a time in order to pursue her interests in academia. She served as the assistant dean of clinical affairs at the University of Maryland Dental School, where she oversaw the clinical programs of an institution that was the primary provider of dental services for adults and children from the poorest neighborhoods in downtown Baltimore.

Today, Atkinson leads large teams performing Phase III clinical trials at the NIDCR.

“Good clinical research depends on strong team science,” she says. "Everyone needs to feel appreciated and supported to answer the research question.” She adds that one of the most important parts of her job is to help teams stay together and be successful.

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes 16 alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Atkinson and other outstanding alumni at the 2017 Alumni Awards Luncheon April 20 on campus. The luncheon is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. Last year’s luncheon attracted more than 500 attendees and garnered more than $120,000 in scholarship funds.

Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the April 20, 2017, Alumni Awards Luncheon.

Click here for more information on the 2017 Alumni Awards recipients.

Nominations are now open for the Class of 2018 Alumni Awardees. Click here to nominate fellow alumni who are deserving of the campus’ highest recognition for alumni achievement. Nominations close March 5.