The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recognized Keck School of Medicine of USC scientists Gage Crump, PhD, and Pinghui Feng, PhD, with awards for Sustaining Outstanding Achievement in Research (SOAR) — eight-year, $8 million grants to enhance our understanding of dental, oral and craniofacial diseases and conditions.

Awarded by the NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), the grants support mid-career scientists with strong track records of productive and innovative research.

Using zebrafish as a model of human craniofacial development and disease, Crump and his team have pioneered new ways to study the development, maintenance and regeneration of the head and face. Moving forward, Crump will continue to explore how progenitor and stem cells build, maintain and regenerate the face and head — and ultimately use the lessons learned from zebrafish to advance treatments for human patients.

Crump, an associate professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at the Keck School, also is dedicated to fostering the next generation of stem cell scientists. In 2013, he created USC’s PhD Program in Development, Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, and in 2017 he won a USC Mentoring Award for his exceptional efforts in guiding graduate students to success.

Feng, an associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Keck School, explores the link between human herpesviruses (e.g., Herpes simplex virus and Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus) and chronic oral inflammation, which can cause gum disease. Understanding these molecular mechanisms (specifically those governed by protein deamidation) may lead to therapies for oral and other inflammatory diseases.

Feng also chairs the Keck School of Medicine Monday seminar committee, serves as a mentor for the Programs in Biomedical and Biological Sciences and is a member of the USC Institute for Emerging Pathogens and Immune Diseases. His previous positions include instructor at Harvard Medical School and assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

“To ensure the long-term stability of the biomedical research enterprise, we must encourage successful independent careers for early-stage investigators and retain them as they become more established,” said NIDCR director Martha Somerman, DDS, PhD. “The SOAR awards will enable these outstanding investigators to continue their career trajectories while pursuing dental, oral and craniofacial research projects that have the potential to break new ground and ultimately improve human health.”

— Cristy Lytal