2023 Outstanding Research & Master Clinician Awards
June 19, 2023
Three distinguished faculty members were recognized at the 2023 Master Clinician and Research Awards ceremony hosted in May at the Center for Oral Health Care and Research. During the event, each award recipient was announced and spoke on a topic of their choice. This year was unique with two Master Clinician Award recipients: Nikita B. Ruparel, MS, DDS, PhD, associate professor and director of advanced programs, Department of Endodontics, and Angela Palaiologou-Gallis, DDS, MS, professor and program director of graduate periodontics, Department of Periodontics. The Outstanding Research recipient was Armen N. Akopian, PhD, professor, Department of Endodontics.
Faculty Research Award
Armen Akopian, PhD
is a 27-year veteran of pain research with a specific interest in why standard analgesics have sex- and age-dependent efficiency; and importantly, why the chronicity of pain conditions is affected by sex and age. Akopian’s lab uses a multidisciplinary research approach that includes electrophysiology, behavioral physiology, anatomy, pharmacology, biochemistry and cell biology.
The School of Dentistry was recently awarded a major five-year, $9.8 million grant
from the National Institutes of Health to discover how sensory neurons in the jaw joint and mastication muscles influence and create pain, which could lead to safer drug alternatives to opioid painkillers while helping to curb addiction. Akopian is the principal investigator and project leader for the school’s RE-JOIN grant.
During the awards ceremony, Akpoian spoke about the grant’s goals and methodology in a presentation entitled “Orofacial Pain Research and HEAL Initiative of NIH.”
“This effort is the basis for eventually developing drugs to replace opioids, so that when someone goes to the dentist with severe jaw joint and facial muscle pain, they will no longer have just one option to control it,” said Akopian. “It’s an aim to create alternative painkillers.”
Master Clinician Award
, DDS, MS researches, teaches and provides life-changing periodontic procedures for patients. Her award presentation entitled, “Periodontics in the Pursuit of Happier Smiles,” presented several case studies on patients, highlighting not just the specifics of each case but also the impact those treatments had on the patients’ lives.
During her academic career spanning more than 15 years, she has been a research mentor to many of the residents in the periodontics program at both LSUHSC and UT Health San Antonio. Palaiologou-Gallis has also served as president of the AADR-NO Chapter, president of the OKU honorary society, and in several institutional and departmental committees. She is the vice president of the American Board of Periodontology, a member of the CODA Periodontics Review Committee and a CODA site visitor. She has served the American Academy of Periodontology in several committees and task forces as well as the elected chair of the AAP Postdoctoral Directors Organization.
In addition to this most recent award, Palaiologou-Gallis received the 2020, and 2013 American Academy of Periodontology Outstanding Educator Award for Teaching and Mentoring. She also received a Special Citation from the American Academy of Periodontology in 2019 for participation in the MARCH task force. Finally, she is a 2014 Fellow of the ADEA Leadership Institute.
Nikita B. Ruparel
, MS, DDS, PhD, teaches and provides clinical care that integrates the most advanced dental technology to ensure accurate diagnoses and effective treatments, with a patient's well-being at the forefront. As part of her awards ceremony presentation, “Exploring the Latest Advances in Endodontic Technology and Ideas,” she focused on a number of these leading-edge treatments and technologies in use in the endodontics clinic.
She lectures at national and international meetings on pain biology, management and regenerative endodontics. Ruparel’s research focuses on pain and stem cells including the development of non-opioid drugs using human tissues and stem cells to treat inflammatory pain; the study of differential regulation of dental pain in humans; and the study of the role and function of stem cells in tooth regeneration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she helped write new guidelines on how dental workers can stay safe while treating potentially infected patients, which was published in 2020 in the Journal of Endodontics
and has contributed on numerous publications throughout her career.
In addition to her most recent award, Ruparel was nominated for the 2021 Regent’s Outstanding Teaching Award, received the 2020 IADR Women in Science Distinguished Scientist award from the International Association of Dental Research and was a 2019 recipient of the Distinguished Research Mentor Award from the School of Dentistry. She has served as the vice-program chair, program chair and general chair for the American Association of Endodontics for a three-year term.
The School of Dentistry’s Faculty Research and Master Clinician Awards were established in 2020 to recognize outstanding contributions by dental faculty. The Office of the Dean will circulate an announcement for nominations each fall.