"Every cloud has a silver lining"

Gustavo Avila-Ortiz was born in Granada, Spain. Currently he is a tenured full professor and the chair of the Department of Periodontics at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry in Iowa City (USA). Six years ago he got in contact with the Osteology Foundation for the first time. Back then, he was already quickly climbing up a steep career ladder. The Osteology Foundation talked to him about how his professional career has developed since then and how the Foundation has supported him in this process.

In 2014, Gustavo was invited by the Osteology Foundation to contribute as an author to the Osteology Research Guidelines for Oral & Maxillofacial Regeneration Clinical Research book. “It was a wonderful opportunity to share what I had learned as a clinical researcher up to that point in my career,” he says.

New friends become a second family

Gustavo became a member of THE BOX team in 2015, and stayed until 2019. His first group meeting in Zurich was also his first time in Switzerland. He loved all aspects of the experience: he met old friends, made new friends and learned about the culture and vision of the Foundation. In subsequent virtual and in-person group meetings, they worked cohesively with the guidance and support of the Osteology Foundation office to expand, refine and monitor the structure and content of THE BOX. In 2016, Gustavo also joined  the “Expert Council family”. “I treasure the invitation back in 2016. It is something that I carry with honour and pride. Since I joined this “family” I have mostly served as a reviewer of grant applications and was also involved in several symposia, either as a speaker or on the organising committee. It has been both enriching and stimulating.”

Gustavo and THE BOX project team

A family always enjoys coming together

“Osteology Monaco 2016 was the first Osteology educational event that I had ever attended, and I very much enjoyed the experience,” remembers Gustavo. In addition to the great programme and its speakers, Gustavo had a wonderful time at the social events. He met a number of new friends again with whom he enjoys coming together. The presentations by Vivianne Chappuis and Maurício Araújo left a lasting impression on Gustavo. They are two of the most prominent authors in post-extraction alveolar ridge dynamics, which is one of the topics that Gustavo is most interested in. When it comes to Monaco, there is one thing that simply belongs to the city – the Formula 1 circuit. Gustavo recounts: “On a personal note, I love Formula 1 racing, so being able to walk the streets that host the Formula 1 Grand Prix once a year was a highlight for me. Some corners are so narrow! It gave me a different level of appreciation for what those outstanding drivers can do.”

Gustavo took the speed and the skill of the Formula 1 drivers to heart and implemented this in his career. In 2018, he was invited by the Foundation to be a speaker in the main programme and a judge in the research competition at the National Osteology Symposium USA (Phoenix). The topic of his presentation was “Maxillary Sinus Augmentation”. It was a great experience for Gustavo. He had the opportunity to share the podium with giants in the field and he learned tremendously from all of them. Gustavo very much enjoyed seeing some members of his then second family again during the social events. “Kudos to the chairpersons Pamela McClain and William Giannobile and the rest of the team for organising such a high quality event,” he says.

Gustavo and David Kim at the National Osteology Symposium USA 2018 in Phoenix

In 2019, Gustavo participated in the annual meeting of the AAP (American Academy of Periodontology) as a speaker during the Osteology Foundation session. He shared the podium with Purnima Kumar, Frank Schwarz and Paul Rosen. The title of his presentation was “Optimizing Single Tooth Replacement by Leveraging on Regenerative Therapy and Digital Technologies”. He adds: “I am so pleased to see how the AAP and the Osteology Foundation, two organisations that occupy a special place in my heart, have established a solid and mutually beneficial collaboration. It is through these synergies that we grow stronger together.”

Every cloud has a silver lining

Since early March this year, after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives and routines have been affected significantly. If nothing else, the history of civilisation has proven that Homo sapiens is a species that knows how to respond and adapt to challenging circumstances. And that is exactly what the organising team for the National Osteology Symposium USA did: respond and adapt to the circumstances in order to keep their commitment of holding a quality National Osteology Symposium. “It was a pleasure to be part of such an engaged and dynamic group!” he thinks back, proudly. Gustavo used the blessing in disguise and embraced the responsibility of being the moderator of the live sessions with enthusiasm. To some extent it was uncharted territory for everyone. “It was fun to interact with speakers that were thousands of miles away, as well to be the voice of the hundreds of attendees that sent questions and comments as the live session went on,” he reminisces.

After this digital experience we asked Gustavo about his general opinion of the importance of digitalisation: “The importance is huge! The experience with the Virtual Osteology Symposium USA in April, the Virtual Osteology Symposium Sydney in June and, more recently, the Virtual Osteology Research Academy in September has proven that this mode of divulging basic and clinical science works and offers outreaching opportunities for the future. I believe that it should be viewed as a complement, rather than a replacement to traditional, in-person scientific events.”

Grasp the opportunity

Gustavo remembers the moment in July of this year when he received a notification from the Osteology Foundation, informing him that he and his team had been awarded an Osteology Researcher grant. The project will be led by Sukirth Ganesan. He is a very talented, young investigator who is a faculty member in Gustavo’s Department and the current director of the advanced education programme in Periodontics at Iowa. Pablo Galindo-Moreno, Gustavo’s first mentor, who is a full professor in the Department of Oral Surgery and Implantology in Granada, is a collaborator in this investigation. The project is entitled: Spatial Co-Localization of Immune And Microbial Cell Populations In Peri-Implantitis Lesions: A Quantitative And Architectural Analysis. We asked Gustavo to explain the aim of the study: “Our primary aim is to investigate the host-microbial dynamics in peri-implantitis lesions, by determining the inflammatory milieu in the affected tissue, localising the key immune cells, and mapping the microbial species that co-localise in the same affected tissue. We expect this study to generate new information that will contribute to the knowledge base of the etiopathogenesis of peri-implantitis lesions.”

Gustavo adds: “I am definitely intending to apply for Osteology Foundation grants in the future. I love the fact that there are different opportunities tailored to different career stages, including young and senior investigators, as well as large grants to support specific projects with great potential that require a major financial investment. There is no other organisation like the Osteology Foundation. It is committed to supporting research and education for the ultimate benefit of our patients. These grants are evidence of that.”

Gustavo’s future steps

“Even though I would be very excited to be a Formula 1 racer, I am very happy where I am now. I have had the fortune and privilege of meeting and interacting with so many amazing people since I started to work closely with the Osteology Foundation. I would be delighted to continue to work with the Foundation in the future. I am committed to helping further the core mission of the Foundation, as I very much identify with the spirit of linking science with practice in oral regeneration through quality research and education,” he says, rounding off the talk.