Tara Aghaloo is an associate professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry. She began working at UCLA in 2000, after receiving her M.D. from the University.
Aghaloo is a Principal Investigator (PI) in a Multi-Principal Investigator grant that evaluates the pathophysiology of bisphosphonate related osteonecrosis of the jaws. She is also a PI of two additional grants: one that examines the healing of calvarial defects after grafting with Nell-1, BMP-2, and the combination; and another that examines the osteoinductive potential of two growth factors, rhBMP-2 and rhPDGF.
Active in both IADR and AADR, she has served on several IADR/AADR committees and groups, and in 2007 she served as president of the IADR Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Research Group. Aghaloo has been recognized for her research and work in the community and holds many honors, including the Leo D. Fields Volunteer of the Year Award. In addition, she has received research fellowships to help further her career in research and oral surgery.
Joined AADR in 2001.
1994 B.A. University of Missouri, Kansas City,
1994 D.D.S University of Missouri, Kansas City,
1999 M.D. University of California, Los Angeles,
2000 Certificate University of California, Los Angeles,
2007 Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles,
Why did you choose to become a researcher and oral surgeon?
I got into research pretty late in my training; I wanted to be a dentist for a long as I can remember. When I got into dental school, oral surgery was the thing that looked like it made the most noticeable and largest impact to the patients, from what I had seen. The fact that you can change someone’s life and outlook through major reconstruction, or removal of benign or malignant tumors, or other jaw surgery really appealed to me. When I found that there were many unanswered questions in clinical surgical practice, I began to seek answers in the laboratory. Once I started research during my surgery residency, I was hooked. It was at that time that I knew I wanted a career in academics as a clinician scientist.
How have you been able to impact your patients’ lives through oral surgery?
Many times in doing cleft lip and palate surgery, I find that I can make a pretty large impact. Other times, when someone has a large cyst or tumor and they are afraid that the surgery is going to leave them extremely disfigured, by doing reconstruction either immediately at the time of a receptive type of surgery or in a more delayed fashion, I can get the patient back to complete rehabilitation, and even to the point where it seems that most people wouldn’t even know that anything was done. Often, the patient can be right back to where he or she started before all of this occurred.
What are you currently researching?
My main research focus is bone healing and regeneration, and remodeling. To date, I have mostly studied how to make bone heal better and regenerate faster in defects, mostly in translational models. More recently I have been working on Bisphosphonate-Related Osteonecrosis of the Jaw (BRONJ). I have many patients who have BRONJ and have really devastating effects from the complications of their medications. We have an animal model to study BRONJ, which is the basis for the recent R01 grant. We have been working on trying to determine the pathophysiology of the disease, and trying to find ways to improve it or treat it in the animal model, and then hopefully, our patients. Through this research, we are learning that bisphosphonate inhibition of osteoclast differentiation and function, in the presence of periodontal disease, are necessary and sufficient for BRONJ development in the rat. We will utilize this animal model to uncover the mechanisms of BRONJ and investigate potential therapies.
You are a researcher, oral surgeon and devoted mom. At a time when people struggle to create balance in their professional, personal and family lives, how are you able to achieve that balance?
It’s a work in progress and I have a really great support system—my extended family is close by and I have a super supportive husband. I have two daughters and I teach them that they can do whatever they want; they just have to love what they are doing. Whatever things you think are important in your job or life can be combined together and made into something great. I love what I do outside the house and inside the house, and I’ve really learned how to prioritize. My time is very focused and directed, and I spend much of my free time working. If I didn’t love what I do, it would be impossible for me to do it to this degree.
Where do you think the dental research community would be without AADR?
I don’t think the community would be as collaborative and organized without AADR. It’s a great medium for fostering those collaborative relationships and networking. In addition, I think AADR is very important for students. The meetings are a great forum for students to get involved and network, and meet other scientists and professors they have read about or heard about. Attending the meetings puts everyone on an equal networking level.
What is some advice you offer to your students who want to pursue careers in dental research?
I tell them it takes a lot of time and hard work. Research is not one of those careers that gives you instant gratification. Even if you discover and identify something early, there’s a lot of time and often frustration that researchers face. It’s definitely something that you have to love. At UCLA it’s encouraged that students go to and present at AADR meetings so that they can see what research in the dental community is all about and the type of impact it makes.