By Dr. Moein Sadrkhani
This month’s Resident Spotlight interviewee is Dr. Faranak Mahjour. She’s had long journey from Shiraz, Iran, to Tehran, Iran, then Boston and finally Buffalo, N.Y. During all these stops she received a few degrees, published numerous articles and research, and won scientific and sport-related awards!
The Paper Point: Dr. Faranak, thank you for accepting our interview request and sharing your story. You had a great journey, high school in Shiraz, dental school in Tehran, Ph.D. in Boston and now endodontic residency in Buffalo! Tell us more about how all this happened.
Dr. Faranak Mahjour: First of all, thank you so much for this opportunity. I finished my high school in Shiraz, Iran. In 2004, I took the National University Entrance Exam, which is taken nationwide, and I was ranked among top 100, which gave me the opportunity to choose any school I wanted to attend. I chose dentistry in Shahid Beheshti (Melli) University-School of Dentistry in Tehran. During my days in dental school I was interested in endodontics and was motivated to do research in this field. Then I served as a research assistant in Iranian Center for Endodontic Research and the results of my research have been presented in conferences and published in 12 peer-reviewed journals. After I graduated, I joined a care center in an underserved area located in the south of Iran, where I met my husband for the first time. My husband was practicing over there, and that is where we began our adventurous life together. At the time, we did not imagine that we would end up on the other side of the world!
My interest in science and research drove me to apply for a Ph.D. program in oral biology in the US. My aim was to help patients who suffered from dental or oral problem by developing new diagnostic approaches and treatments. I entered into the Ph.D. program in oral biology at Boston University with a fellowship award. After completing my Ph.D., I was still feeling my passion in endodontics and I had strong motivation to gain advanced endodontic training. Like the other residents, I applied to endodontic residency programs and I found my right fit at University at Buffalo.
The Paper Point: After all those years of dental school and working as a dentist, was it hard to get used to working in the lab and doing Ph.D.?
Dr. Mahjour: I had prior experience in the research field, performing experiments and writing manuscripts before starting my Ph.D., but still it was challenging. I had to improve my basic science foundation as well as my research skills. I needed to be able to apply basic science to solve practical biomedical problems. To conduct my research, I developed an extensive background in molecular biology, in vitro and in vivo studies, hands-on animal technique, and small rodent surgery. My Ph.D. education trained me to think critically and to solve problems logically. During my Ph.D., I won several awards, such as first place in the AADR-Boston chapter for two consecutive years, which were inspiring to me.
The Paper Point: Tell us more about your research during Ph.D.? Are you still doing research in Buffalo? My patient was asking me when are we going to make the gel to grow the tooth back! Should I refer him to you or not yet?
Dr. Mahjour: My research was centered on the effects and mechanism of lysyl oxidase like-2 enzyme (which is critical for collagen biosynthesis) on the progression and invasiveness of oral squamous cell carcinoma. I targeted this enzyme in tumor microenvironment to control oral cancer both, in vivo and in vitro model, and also characterized its signaling pathway. The result of my study demonstrating inhibition of LOXL2 could provide therapeutic strategies to address oral cancer was published recently in the Nature-Oncogenesis Journal. I also did research on polymorphic lysyl oxidase gene to assess its role in oral cancer susceptibility in mouse model.
I do have strong interests in the field of regenerative endodontics. My current research involves utilizing antibiotic-loaded gel scaffold to home dental pulp stem cells and characterizing their differentiation properties and gene expression. Well, still a long way to go in this exciting field of research.
The Paper Point: After all this research and Ph.D., you decided to become an endodontist; was this something you always wanted to do, or did your research lead you to endo?
Dr. Mahjour: When I was a dental student, the endodontic department was my favorite department. I found that I was passionate about it during my endodontic clinical rotations, partly due to the outstanding faculties! Also, during my practice in an underserved area, I saw a high volume of patients who needed RCT; these cases challenged me and motivated me to improve my skills. I was very concerned for my patients and in relieving their dental pain.
I was not sure about attending endodontic residency program until I was about to complete my Ph.D. After being out of clinic for a few years, I really felt that I miss clinic, seeing patients, and doing root canals!
The Paper Point: During your dental school you won the national ping pong (table tennis) competition in Iran; do you still play? Do we have a endodontic residency ping pong championship?
Dr. Mahjour: I started to play ping pong when I was a kid on our dinner table with my dad! I played last year for Boston University’s women’s team for tournament competition. I still play sometimes for fun! Last year I enjoyed playing ping pong with endo residents from other schools during APICES and I am looking forward to it this year, too!
The Paper Point: How was getting used to the university and dental school environment here? I remember my first days at UCLA I was always wanted to stand up whenever our faculties entered the room, since it was part of the culture back in my dental school (Tabriz Dental School).
Dr. Mahjour: The environment and the culture is different here for us as internationals. Misunderstandings happen – sometimes funny ones and then we have stories to tell! People here at Buffalo are warm and friendly. Some of them have never been abroad. When I meet my patients for the first time, they are curious about my accent and my home country and they like to bring up a wide range of topics from politics and economics to culture, which end up in fun and enjoyable conversations. It allows me to make a strong relationship with them and motivate them to come back and complete their treatments.
The Paper Point: How is your residency going? Is it pretty much what you expected or are there some surprises, too?
Dr. Mahjour: I was out of clinic for a few years, and the clinic part was challenging to me for the first few months of residency. I am thankful to our program director and faculties at the Endodontic Department at the University at Buffalo, who understand my strengths and weaknesses and inspire me during the journey to overcome the challenges and to enhance my knowledge and clinical skills. I enjoy my improvement and I am starting to become more confident every day. I also have friendly and supporting co-residents, making the residency life more enjoyable.
During our residency, we do research and presentations, teach, and receive strong surgical and non-surgical training. Handling everything together is not easy, but it prepares us for both academic and clinical careers.
Besides school, my husband and I enjoy fishing in summertime and skiing during the white winters of beautiful Upstate New York.
The Paper Point: You just started your second year; have you thought about what is next? Do you have any plans already?
Dr. Mahjour: I’d like to practice as an endodontist, pursue a faculty position, and expand my research. The social nature of school with dynamic learning environment is exciting to me. I also feel responsible to educate the next generation of dental practitioners to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
The Paper Point: We’ll see you for sure at APICES in Chicago in August; until then, any final words for our readers?
Dr. Mahjour: Due to the recent travel complications, many of the students and residents even in our field are affected. They are separated from their family members and it is impossible for their family to travel here and for them to travel home. I hope these complications will resolve and we can all continue our education and progress with a peace of mind.
About the author: Dr. Moein Sadrkhani is a member of AAE’s Resident and New Practitioner Committee and a UCLA Endodontics resident, Class of 2020.