Alumni Merit Award: Charles S. Sfeir (D96, G99)
For the scores of American troops returning from overseas with disfiguring and inhibiting facial injuries, the war may be over but their struggles are just beginning. Thanks to the research team of Charles Sfeir, they can hope for a better future.
Sfeir—an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Center for Craniofacial Regeneration — and his colleagues Bernard Costello and Prashant Kumta were awarded a $3.9 million grant by the Department of Defense Office of Technology and Transition to develop new therapies for patients suffering from facial injuries (the therapy may also prove effective for patients with tumors and other defects).
Their work appears to be paying off.
The project, which aims to grow new bone using a nanotechnology-based cement as scaffolding, is already in its clinical trial stage—quite impressive considering four years ago this idea was but a rough sketch on a bar napkin.
“As a researcher, seeing your ideas progress to become a therapy is an extremely gratifying experience because it gives a purpose to your research,” Sfeir says. “In addition, you know there are patients with limited treatment options, and this technology would help them.”
Sfeir, who earned a DDS from the Universite Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France in 1990, took much from his training at the Northwestern University Dental School. He credits his adviser, Arthur Vies, for teaching him all about research and helping him surmount many obstacles in the field. He also values the clinical instruction offered by Alphonse Gargiulo, Milton Geivelis, and Robert Pick.
Sfeir also made the most of the school’s location in downtown Chicago. He has fond memories of lunches in the John Hancock Center, coffee breaks on Michigan Avenue, and after-hours reveling at the bars on Rush Street. On special occasions, a little mischief even found its way onto campus.
“Birthday parties in the lab included vodka in test tubes,” he recounts. “It looked like water, so nobody could notice what we were doing.”
After earning his PhD in molecular biology in 1999, Sfeir joined the Dental School faculty. Unfortunately, he fell victim to ill timing. He had just started his own research laboratory when Northwestern closed the Dental School in 2001.
“I suppose the positive spin is that since I was faculty at Northwestern, I had plenty of offers to consider,” he says.
Sfeir and his wife, Margie, live in Pittsburgh. They have three young children.