Tim Nguyen, a T90 trainee in the Iowa Institute of Oral Health Research and a PhD student in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Genetics, was awarded an F31 grant.
Thursday, May 25, 2023
Tim Nguyen

An F31 award is a training grant for mentored dissertation research. This award will support Nguyen’s study investigating the development of the midface region and underlying pathology of craniofacial anomalies in that region.

Drawing from research of his mentor, Eric Van Otterloo, Nguyen is investigating how cranial neural crest cells give rise to the medial- and upper-face regions that make up the forehead, nose, and cheeks, (i.e., midface). Cranial neural crest cells are embryonic stem cells that give rise to the bones and cartilage structures in the face during embryonic development. The processes by which these cells give rise to unique structures are regulated by positional gene regulatory networks.

Prior research has investigated how the lower face region develops, but little work has been done on the gene regulatory networks for the midface region. Nguyen's dissertation project is addressing this gap.  

His team's initial insight came when he deleted TFAP2 genes specifically in mouse neural crest cells. Doing so significantly affected neural crest cell development, which resulted in severe midface clefting and severe skeletal malformations. This observation suggests that TFAP2 plays a key role in the midface gene regulatory network.

In particular, Nguyen is investigating the precise relationship between TFAP2 and the expression of ALX1/3/4 genes. Understanding this relationship, Nguyen hypothesizes, will shed insight into the unique programs controlling midfacial development. These identified programs will in turn contribute to future treatment and prevention options of midfacial disorders.

This project is the fifth NIH training grant that R90/T90 students have secured since training grant was refunded in 2018. Past trainees who received NIH training grants include Aline Petrin (K01), Jennifer Sukalski (F31), Mathew Remy (F31), and Jason Semprini (F31). Along with Eric Van Otterloo, Brad Amendt serves as a cosponsor for Nguyen's F31.