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Dr. Claire Mills selected as 2024-25 Magnuson Scholar

Dr. Clair MillsDr. Claire Mills, one of six students in the dual degree DDS/PhD program, has been selected as the UW School of Dentistry’s Magnuson Scholar for the 2024-25 academic year.

The Magnuson Scholar Program awards seven students, at least one from each of the six health sciences schools, with $34,000, making it one of the largest grants offered by the university. The recipients are chosen based on their academic performance and potential for research in the health sciences.

Dr. Mills, who is finishing her seventh year of the eight year DDS/PhD track, has been studying the challenges in both screening and treating head and neck cancer (HNSCC) since her predoctoral dental training, prompting her to pursue a mechanistic study of HNSCC during her PhD.

“Being selected as one of the Magnuson Scholars by the School of Dentistry is an incredible honor,” said Dr. Mills. “This is a competitive award, and I am incredibly grateful to be selected this year. It is very encouraging to have my research and future goals in academic oral cancer research validated with this selection.”

Dr. Mills has been showcasing her research project, “The Role of Field Cancerization in Oral Cancer Progression,” this year, including at the School of Dentistry Research Day where she took first place in the Graduate Trainee Oral Presentation competition. She has been mentored by research faculty at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, including Dr. Slobodan Beronja.

“Claire adapted an approach for rapid gene targeting of human oral epithelium and cancer in the context of orthotopic transplants,” said Dr. Beronja. “She demonstrated competence, determination, and persistence that I have not seen before. I felt privileged she chose my lab for her training.”

Dr. Mills presents her project at the School of Dentistry Research Day.
Dr. Mills presents her project at the School of Dentistry Research Day.

Dr. Mills’ long-term goal is to be an academic clinician-scientist who treats patients in the clinic and runs an independent research laboratory, which is why the DDS/PhD track greatly appealed to her, since its integration between clinical and research training is so strong.

“This scholarship will provide incredible financial support for me as I finish my dual DDS/PhD training,” said Dr. Mills. “This support enables me to pursue specialty and post-doctoral research training. It will significantly aid me to achieve my professional goal of becoming an independent investigator and clinician in the field of oral cancer research.”

“Claire is fearless at the bench, conducting modern sequencing-based experiments, generating large datasets, and analyzing the data herself,” said Dr. Robert Cornell, the Oral Health Sciences Graduate Program Director. “She is well-poised to become an independent dentist-scientist.”

All Magnuson Scholars help carry on the legacy of the late Senator Warren G. Magnuson and his remarkable commitment to improving the nation’s health through biomedical research, education, and responsive, sustainable healthcare discoveries. At least one scholar must be engaged in research related to diabetes, its antecedents or treatment.

For more on Dr. Mills’ selection, and to see the other six Magnuson Scholars, visit the UW Health Sciences Services news page.