The role of the ADRF in dental research excellence in Australia

28 November 2019

What is the value of research to the dental profession?

To answer this question, you need to have an appreciation of dentistry as a learned profession. Dentistry is based on a body of knowledge which can only be reliably acquired through high quality research. This understanding of the key role and importance of research in dental education and practice underpins the need to embed research training into undergraduate and postgraduate dental training, cultivating in our dental graduates a taste for intellectual curiosity, for problems, and for problem solving. 

Only by obtaining this scientific grounding will a practitioner be able to acquire and assimilate new knowledge and adapt to the changes in practice and in the profession that the future requires. However, such research is resource intensive and sources for funding dental research are scarce, highlighting the importance of the Australian Dental Research Foundation (ADRF), which is the primary source of funding for dental research in the country.

The Australian Dental Research Foundation is a joint initiative of the Australian Dental Association and the Australian Dental Industry Association (ADIA) and was founded in 1970 by Mr Colin Cormie, OBE, Chairman of the Australian Dental Trade Association, predecessor to ADIA. The primary role of the Foundation is to support and foster high quality dental research in Australia. Since inception, the ADRF has funded well over 2,050 annual grants and scholarships totalling $3.5 million. The foundation receives between 100-150 applications every year and is able to fund around 30% of these grants, based on a robust peer-review system managed by a Research Advisory Committee comprised of leading researchers across the country. Therefore, while the foundation is able to fund a number of high quality projects, limited financial resources mean that many worthwhile projects miss out every year.

The ADRF remains a major source of funding advances in dental knowledge and practice and has been responsible for supporting many leading dental academics during their careers. In September of this year, The Australian newspaper published its Annual Research Report which included a list of Australia’s research leaders in various fields. It was pleasing to see two dental researchers recognized for their outstanding research – Professor Mark Bartold was named the research leader in the field of Dentistry and Professor Camile Farah the research field leader in  Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. Both researchers acknowledged the key role that support from the Australian Dental Research Foundation has had in supporting their research careers. 

Professor Bartold notes that ADRF support has played a crucial role throughout his career.

“I still remember getting my first ADRF grant while I was still a student. The ADRF has played a significant role in funding numerous research projects, often providing seed funding for projects that went on to obtain funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, as well as supporting numerous postgraduate and postdoctoral research projects, which would not have been possible without this support.” 

Professor Farah, currently Chairman of the ADRF, and previous Chairman of its Research Advisory Committee also spoke about the role that ADRF funding has had in establishing his research activities recalling first obtaining an ADRF Summer Vacation Research Scholarship in 1993 which set his research career in motion, and assisted him in obtaining NHMRC and other major competitive research funding since then.  “For many young dental researchers in Australia, ADRF is typically the first source of funding used to help establish their careers. I have witnessed the positive effect of ADRF in my career as a student and subsequently as an academic, and I continue to see how ADRF makes a significant contribution to the establishment of many young careers through my involvement in the Foundation since 2007.”

The ADRF supports a wide range of research projects, and has been instrumental in facilitating the establishment of interdisciplinary collaborations between dental researchers and leaders in other fields of research. Indeed, two other researchers named in the Australian list of Research Leaders; Professors Yin Xiao (Biomedical Technology) and Dietmar Hutmacher (one of Australia’s Top 40 researchers), from the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology, have both previously received ADRF funding in collaboration with dental researchers.  

These world class researchers’ commitment and engagement in dental research is evidenced by the fact that both will be presenting their work at the International Association of Dental Research Asia-Pacific Region (IADR-APR) Conference held in Brisbane in November 2019. The meeting brings together leading dental and oral health researchers from around the world, and is a showcase of many presentations by students and early career researchers currently and previously supported by ADRF. Indeed the ADRF have teamed up with the IADR-APR to hold a raffle and silent auction to raise much needed funds to continue to support bright dental researchers from around the country.

The ADRF plays a key role in fostering dental research in Australia by supporting early career researchers, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate student research projects. It has been instrumental in supporting the career development of the country’s most eminent researchers and has fostered important collaborations with leaders from other related fields of research. As such, the ADRF is a vital institution in fostering high quality dental research in this country and deserves the profession’s support and patronage.

Prof Sašo Ivanovski
Chair, ADRF Research Advisory Committee