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UCLA School of Dentistry to build new cancer research facility

The UCLA School of Dentistry consistently ranks among the country's top dental schools in National Institutes of Health funding. During the past three fiscal years, the school has secured nearly $30 million in grants for oral cancer research and research training. Now, the dental school has received a major infusion of construction funding for the creation of the UCLA Yip Center for Oral/Head & Neck Oncology Research.

As a result of funds made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the NIH's National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) has awarded more than $5 million for the state-of-the-art complex, which will consolidate and expand the school's ongoing translational research in the biology, detection and treatment of oral cancer.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer in men and the 14th most common cancer in women in the United States. On average, only half of those diagnosed with the disease will survive more than five years. Oral cancer will kill approximately one person every hour this year.

"This visionary funding will enable the dental school to become a nexus of multidisciplinary, collaborative research," said No-Hee Park, dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry and the principal investigator for the construction grant. "Our goal is to make UCLA the home of the premier head and neck and oral oncology research program in the nation, a place where we find new methods for the early diagnosis and treatment of this devastating disease."

Existing outmoded laboratories within the dental school building in UCLA's Center for the Health Sciences will be demolished to construct a 6,660-square-foot facility comprising a large, open wet laboratory, a central core support facility and a conference room. The new lab will include chemical fume hoods, tissue-culture support and a dark room and will be specifically designed for state-of-the-art genomics and proteomics research.

"This is the second time in the UCLA School of Dentistry's history that it has applied for and won an NIH construction grant," said Steve Olsen, UCLA vice chancellor for finance, budget and capital programs. "The first such grant created the Jane and Jerry Weintraub Center for Reconstructive Biotechnology, which also was established under Dean Park's tenure."

The school's new research facility will be named for Felix and Mildred Yip, noted philanthropists within Southern California's Asian American community who have been generous supporters of UCLA and the School of Dentistry.

In 2004, a pledge of support from the Yips was instrumental in the dental school securing a fundable score for this major construction project. However, the NCRR was unable to provide the necessary matching funds to advance the renovation because of federal budget problems. This spring, one of the Obama administration's economic stimulus initiatives breathed new life into the shelved grant.

"The resurrection of our construction grant application and now the news of this sizable award are exciting developments at the dental school," said David Wong, the school's associate dean of research and a pioneer in the field of salivary diagnostics who developed the first standardized saliva-based test for oral cancer.

Wong holds the Felix and Mildred Yip Endowed Professorship in Dentistry and will serve as the director of the UCLA Yip Center for Oral/Head & Neck Oncology Research.

"We are energized thinking about what this research facility will mean for oral cancer research and for translational science," Wong said. "We hope the Yip Center will be the site of many discoveries that better inform our understanding of the diagnosis and treatment of many different types of disease."

"Scientists at the UCLA School of Dentistry have been operating at the vanguard of oral biology research, making significant progress in enhancing our understanding of the mechanisms of cancer growth, as well as the promise of salivary diagnostics," Felix Yip said. "My wife, Mildred, and I have a strong commitment to the Yip Center and to the dental school in their efforts to find new ways to improve oral health that can change people's lives."

Construction planning for the Yip Center has already begun. The demolition phase of the project is expected to start in 2011, with a projected conclusion date for the facility sometime in 2013.


Contact: Sandra Shagat
University of California - Los Angeles

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