Amy Merrill-Brugger receives $2 million NIH grant for craniofacial birth defect research

Amy Merrill-Brugger (Photo courtesy of the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC)
Amy Merrill-Brugger (Photo courtesy of the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC)

USC Stem Cell principal investigator Amy Merrill-Brugger received the National Institute of Health Research Project Grant (R01) for her scientific investigation on inherited human conditions that cause facial bones to develop abnormally.

“Congenital disorders are particularly devastating as our facial bones support tools to feed, sense and communicate,” said Merrill-Brugger, researcher at the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC and assistant professor of craniofacial molecular biology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The highly competitive R01 will provide more than $2 million to Merrill-Brugger’s team for up to five years.

“By revealing the cause of craniofacial birth defects, we hope to advance therapies for their detection and treatment,” said Merrill-Brugger, an Ostrow assistant professor since 2010. She works alongside a team of three research assistants who are also Ostrow PhD and Master’s candidates.

Mutations in a single genetic protein are responsible for at least 10 distinct skeletal birth defects, Merrill-Brugger said in her project summary. Such birth defects include bent bone dysplasia, LADD syndrome, Jackson-Weiss syndrome, Pfeiffer syndrome and Crouzon syndrome.

“Craniofacial birth defects, even if rare, deserve our attention because they uncover the steps necessary to build bone and thus advance our potential for bone regeneration and repair,” said Merrill-Brugger. Bone regeneration and repair could be used clinically to treat diseases or traumas where the bone has been compromised.

The R01 grant comes on the heels of another award Merrill-Brugger earned in February when her team received a March of Dimes grant. That award—worth up to $275,000—will help focus their research on why abnormalities in the protein-producing machines of the cell cause skeletal birth defect.

“The grants’ contributions will have significant impact on advancing the understanding of the mechanisms underpinning diseases caused by genetic dysfunction, including birth defects and cancer. It will also create new opportunities for therapeutic intervention, and pathways to correct abnormal cell proliferation and differentiation in these diseases.”

Ostrow has received the most NIDCR funds of any private dental educational institution for the past three years.

Mentioned in this article: Amy Merrill-Brugger, PhD