UF DMD Freshman Earns Top Honor at Hinman

Natasha Patel and Dr Shannon Wallet
Natasha Patel, left, with her faculty mentor, Dr. Shannon Wallet, and an award Patel received for her research efforts during the 2023 Summer Research Program.

Natasha Patel, a first-year dental student, took top honors in a research competition during the 28th Annual Hinman Student Research Symposium in Memphis, Tennessee, on November 10-12.

Patel’s made an oral presentation about her project, “Oral Keratinocyte Extracellular Vesicles Immunomodulate Periodontal Ligament Fibroblasts,” was named Most Outstanding Presentation in the Basic Sciences.

Patel entered dental school in August 2023 as part of a BS/DMD combined degree program in which students can earn a bachelor’s degree and dental degree in seven years, as opposed to the traditional eight years. In May 2024, she will earn her bachelor’s degree from UF, majoring in nutritional sciences.

Last summer, before her first year in dental school, she applied for the UFCD Summer Research Program. “I was always interested in learning about different aspects of dentistry and doing research through the Summer Research Program seemed like a great opportunity to discover my interests while learning about my chosen field,” she said.

Patel is mentored by Shannon Wallet, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the Department of Oral Biology. “I am so proud of Natasha as she has worked very hard over the summer and since beginning dental school on her project as well as preparing for this competition,” Wallet said.

Patel was joined at Hinman by her classmate, Alyssa Gamboa, who did a poster presentation on her project, “Cannabidiol-Oxycodone Interaction with Pain in Rats Measured by Place Conditioning.” Gamboa’s mentors are John Neubert, D.D.S., Ph.D., a professor, and Niall Murphy, Ph.D., a research associate professor, both in the Department of Orthodontics.

Gamboa graduated from UF with a degree in applied physiology and kinesiology, a program at the UF College of Health and Human Performance, or HHP. She decided to pursue research for her semester of required internship because she was interested in the processes underlying the body’s response to stressors such as exercise or disease.

She spent the spring 2023 semester working in HHP’s Laboratory for Neuromuscular Physiology. “I thought it would be a great way to integrate the more unique aspects of my undergraduate curriculum into the transition to dental school and it was really effective in helping me achieve that goal,” Gamboa said.

Gamboa said that her mentor from HHP, Lan Wei-LaPeirre, Ph.D., has remained supportive of her research and even attended her presentation at the end of the dental school’s Summer Research Program.

Alyssa Gamboa with research poster
Alyssa Gamboa presented her research poster during the 2023 Hinman Student Research Symposium.

Patel and Gamboa were selected by UFCD faculty to represent the UF College of Dentistry at the Hinman Student Research Symposium. They are two of seven freshman dental students who participated in the college’s Summer Research Program during 10 weeks in summer 2023.

The Hinman Student Research Symposium is a national meeting that features oral and poster presentations of research studies by dental students and graduate trainees from dental schools across North America and Canada. The goal of the symposium is to help raise and maintain the quality of dental research and education in the U.S. by encouraging participation of dental students, graduate trainees, and dental school faculty in research to improve oral health care globally. It is sponsored by co-sponsored by the Hinman Dental Society with participation of Procter & Gamble Company, and the Tennessee Dental Association Foundation.

2022 Summer Research Program CohortUF College of Dentistry Summer Research Program

This is a 10-week, structured research program that provides incoming dental students, who have an interest in research, the opportunity to execute a research project alongside a faculty mentor. The SRP has proven to be a valuable asset first-year dental students to help get acclimated to our college before classes begin, while simultaneously exploring oral health research through a research project with a faculty mentor. Participants receive three hours of elective credit in the fall semester for their research activities.

For more information about the program and application deadlines, visit our website here.