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Dentistry research fellow awarded L’Oréal UNESCO ‘For women in science’ award 2017 for Italy

Dr Elena Calciolari. Photo by Claudio Cipriani
Dr Elena Calciolari. Photo by Claudio Cipriani

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Dr Elena Calciolari, a clinical research fellow at QMUL’s Institute of Dentistry, has been awarded the L’Oréal UNESCO “For women in science” award 2017 for Italy.

The awards are given each year to recognise promising young researchers from fields such as life sciences, chemistry, mathematics, computer sciences and engineering, and this year there were over 450 candidates for the Italian award, which was given to Elena and five other women. She is the first dentist to win the award for Italy.

Dr Calciolari, 32, has worked at the Centre for Oral Clinical Research (COCR) within the Institute of Dentistry with Professor Nikolaos Donos since 2015.  She is researching the feasibility of using dental x-rays to identify post-menopausal women at high risk of developing osteoporosis. She will be spending the one year of her L’Oréal UNESCO fellowship continuing this research at the University of Parma, Italy, while still spending 20 per cent of her time at QMUL.

Dr Calciolari said: “When I received the call from L’Oréal I was absolutely shocked, I could never believe that they selected me for this award. When you work as a researcher you have to deal with a fair amount of negativity in your line of work. We all have times where the experiment fails, a paper is rejected for publication, or a grant application is triaged. But the feeling of finally succeeding is absolutely amazing and it pays back for all the hard work and sacrifice.

“This award represents an important step in my academic career as it will allow me to move back to Italy, to the University of Parma. After five years full time in the UK, I am glad I will be able to move back to my home country where I hope this grant will help me find a permanent position. I am also happy to keep a close collaboration with Professor Donos and his great team at QMUL.

“I am very grateful to QMUL and to Professor Donos because the experience and knowledge that I have developed during the past years have made me grow as a researcher and as a person. I think that being part of a highly qualified and motivated team and being supported by a great mentor were the key to my success with the L’Oreal UNESCO award.”

Dr Calciolari came to QMUL with Professor Donos when he moved to the COCR from the UCL Eastman Dental Institute where she had spent the previous four years doing her PhD on bone regeneration and osteoporosis under his supervision. At QMUL she has been collaborating on several clinical research projects, mainly in the field of implant dentistry and periodontology – the specialty in dentistry that studies the supporting structures of teeth, such as the jaw bone, as well as the diseases and conditions that affect them.

“My research interest is in the field of bone regeneration and how systemic diseases such as osteoporosis might impair it. Osteoporosis is the most common chronic metabolic disease of the bone, with an increasing prevalence in elderly people and in post-menopausal women. It is likely that the reduced bone mineral density and the changes in bone structure associated with osteoporosis could affect the jawbones. Together with my team, we have performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature that has revealed how specific measurements taken on two-dimensional dental x-rays, called panoramic radiographs, might be able to identify people affected by osteoporosis.

“Considering the high percentage of people who make regular dental visits, and the fact that panoramic radiographs of the jawbones are a common procedure performed during routine dental check-ups or before various dental treatments, it could be of great clinical value if dentists could opportunistically use these x-rays to identify patients at high risk of osteoporosis. Early diagnosis, which could lead to prevention strategies, is important in reducing the high death rate, related medical problems and economic burden associated with osteoporotic fractures, their treatment and long-term care,” she said

The L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO have been supporting and recognising the role of women in science for the past 19 years through national and international programmes. Today, only 28 per cent of researchers are women and only three per cent of scientific Nobel Prizes are awarded to them. This is why the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation and UNESCO have been committed to women in science, to increase the number of women working in scientific research. Since the programme began, it has supported more than 2,700 young women from 115 countries and celebrated 97 Laureates at the peak of their careers, including two Nobel Prize winners.

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