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By Trina Wood on March 6, 2017

Craniomaxillofacial disorders seems like a mouthful of big words, but break it down into ‘defects that affect the head, jaw or face’ and you’re likely familiar with one of these conditions: cleft lip and palate, damage due to cancerous tumors, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) defects, and oral immune conditions to name a few.

Humans aren’t the only species to experience these disorders. Puppies can be born with congenital birth defects of cleft palate. Cats suffer an oral immune disease that is analogous to a human condition. Fortunately, veterinary medicine has discovered a lot in the research and treatment of these various conditions that can translate to helping humans. Sometimes the knowledge flows the other direction too — human medical treatment informs veterinary care. This flow is the premise and strength of comparative medicine.

For the first time ever, medical experts from human and veterinary dentistry came together last fall at a unique conference, “Craniomaxillofacial Disorders and Solutions in Man and Animals,” to discuss similarities in addressing these disorders.

Serendipitous and Spellbound

The conference came about thanks to a bit of serendipity. Drs. Boaz Arzi and Frank Verstraete, veterinary surgeons at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine known for their pioneering work in canine mandibular reconstruction, were presenting at a veterinary dental conference in Monterey, California, in October of 2015. In the audience, Dr. Ichiro Nishimura was spellbound. As a human dentist with a research program in tissue regeneration and biotechnology and as the director of the UCLA School of Dentistry Weintraub Center for Reconstructive Biotechnology, Nishimura wanted to know more about translating the novel techniques presented by the veterinary scientists to human applications. Verstraete and Arzi began communicating with Nishimura and his colleague, Dr. Alireza Moshaverinia, brainstorming on how they could assemble medical experts from the human and veterinary dentistry and craniomaxillofacial clinical and research fields in one place to learn from each other.

“We wanted to live up to the paper we put out in Science Translational Medicine and bring everyone together,” Arzi said.

Over the course of the next year, the UC Davis and UCLA faculty collaborated to create a unique opportunity for clinicians and scientists to understand and discuss craniomaxillofacial disorders occurring in humans and animals and the challenges that they pose on the patient and the clinician. Attendees over the two-day event held at UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center ranged from basic scientists, bioengineers and radiologists, to oncologists, dentists, and oral and maxillofacial surgeons. About 75 percent were from human medicine; 25 percent came from veterinary medicine.

Topics included:

  • 3-D Printing
  • Oral Immune Disorders and Solutions
  • Tissue Engineering and Stem Cells for Craniofacial and TMJ Defects
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Cancer, Cysts and Clefts
  • Jaw Reconstruction and Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) Strategies
  • Nanotechnology and Drug Delivery Systems
  • New Imaging and Diagnostic Technology and Design
  • Panel Discussion on Clinical and Translational Science

Hopefully Ever After

“It was an eye-opening experience on both sides to see where this field is and where it may be going,” Arzi said. “This conference opened people’s minds to translational aspects of veterinary medicine. There are a lot of similarities in spontaneous disease and what we can learn from them.”

The conference organizers hope to repeat the event, which was free to attendees, on a biannual basis. Sponsors included the National Institutes of Health, start-up funds provided by Dr. Arzi, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine dean’s Innovation Funds, UCLA, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Foundation for Oral-facial Rehabilitation, and Fuji Films.


Communications and marketing officer Trina Wood is the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s communications “Jill of All Trades.”