Blake M. Warner, DDS, PhD, MPH is currently an Assistant Clinical Investigator and Chief of the Salivary Disorders Unit and the Sjögren’s Syndrome Clinical and Translational Research Team at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), Bethesda, MD. The integrated specialty
received his B.S. in Biochemistry at the University of Miami in Oxford, OH, and his M.P.H., Ph.D., and D.D.S. at The Ohio State University, Columbus. Warner subsequently completed a three-year hospital-based clinical residency in oral and maxillofacial pathology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, PA, and earned his Fellowship in the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology and his Board Certification by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology in 2017.
Warner then completed a post-doctoral Clinical Research Fellowship at National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), Bethesda, MD, focused on basic and clinical investigations in Sjögren’s Syndrome and radiation-induced xerostomia. In May of 2018, he was appointed acting chief of the Sjögren’s Syndrome Clinic and in August of 2019 was appointed Chief of the Salivary Disorders Unit and the Sjögren’s Syndrome Clinic. Warner leads an integrated multi-specialty clinic and aligned research laboratory focused on deep characterization of disorders affecting the salivary glands including autoimmune diseases and iatrogenic salivary damage by oncologic therapies. Specifically, they interrogate the clinical phenotype, genetics, and immunopathology of salivary dysfunction states including Sjögren’s Syndrome and immune checkpoint inhibitor-induced (ICI) sicca and to inform the clinical testing novel therapeutics to improve health outcomes.
1. How did you first learn about AADOCR and what motivated you to join?
I first heard about AADOCR when I was applying to the DDS/PhD program at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry, Columbus. I was an oral health graduate student who studied oral cancer chemoprevention at the time. I heard that this is where student researchers would go to present their research projects.
2. What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of an AADOCR membership?
It is hard to pinpoint a single benefit but I would say the community and the peer-reviewed publications are very valuable.
The community of engaged scientists, educators, and clinicians focused on oral health is what I find to be most valuable aspect of AADOCR membership. The camaraderie when we are able to attend the Annual Meeting is infectious and it really does help me put my work into wider perspective, specifically the clinical relevance. I think it is also a space and opportunity to identify collaborators and connect with mentors. I believe mentorship and professional/career coaches are essential at every level.
I think it is also important to acknowledge the numerous opportunities to engage with other AADOCR members, such as Focused Symposia, which are typically are high on my priority list. I think this year really emphasized the utility of these networks regarding practice and research-critical topics like COVID-19. In my mind, the pandemic has emphasized the critical role that oral health researchers play in tackling global health challenges such as COVID-19, but it is only one important disease—there are many others.
The Journal of Dental Research is the ideal place to publish a wide array of research focused on the oral cavity. In my experience, the review process is straightforward, the reviewers are thoughtful, and the publication quality is top-rated. For me, reading the JDR monthly keeps me abreast of novel research across the complex collection of specialties represented by the oral and craniofacial complex.
3. Tell us about your recent research focus. How has being involved with AADOCR impacted your research?
I am currently an Assistant Clinical Investigator and Chief of the Salivary Disorders Unit and the Sjögren’s Syndrome Clinic at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the National Institutes of Health. Our integrated specialty clinic and associated basic and translational research laboratory focus on characterizing disorders affecting the salivary glands including autoimmune diseases and iatrogenic salivary damage by oncologic therapies. Specifically, we interrogate the clinical phenotype, genetics, and immunopathology of salivary dysfunction states including Sjögren’s Disease and immune checkpoint inhibitor-induced (ICI) sicca. Our principal objective is to identify targetable pathways and rational clinical testing novel therapeutics to improve health outcomes.
Presently, the Salivary Disorders Unit is pursuing three focused research projects: i) investigating pathogenic T cell subsets in Sjögren’s Disease and immune checkpoint inhibitor sicca (ICIS, Warner et al., 2019, Burbelo et al., 2019, Warner & Burbelo et al., 2021), ii) the identification of novel mechanisms of salivary dysregulation in Sjögren’s Disease (Warner & Tanaka, et al., 2020, Warner and Tanaka, et al., 2021, Nakamura, Warner, et al., 2021), and iii) dissecting oral involvement in the transmission and pathogenesis of COVID-19 (Huang & Perez, et al., 2021, Marc hesan, Warner, and Byrd, 2021, Guan & Warner, et al., 2021). My laboratory uses patient-derived tissues to perform ‘omics investigations using single cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) and spatially-resolved RNA-seq (srRNA-seq). When integrated with deep clinical phenotyping, a cell-type and spatial representation of disease-specific and cell-specific alterations can be appreciated. We seek to understand transcriptional state of each salivary cell type in health and disease. My program also investigates unique subsets patients which phenocopy SS but with variants in pathways central to salivary function, or that harbor mutations that modify the development of autoimmunity. In studying rare disease variants, we open a window into the biology of complex autoimmune diseases and opportunities for pharmaceutical intervention.
4. You were President of the AADOCR National Student Research Group (NSRG) and served as Student Representative to the AADOCR Board of Directors — thank you for volunteering your time! Why did you decide to join the NSRG and volunteer in leadership roles? How has that involvement impacted your career?
This was one of the most formative experiences in my training. I am continually reflecting on this experience, and do HOPE that one day I can give back to AADOCR and IADR by being a Board Member in the future.
A quick story regarding my involvement as President: It was either my first or second AADOCR/IADR attendance. I befriended the individual who was the president of NSRG at the time, Dr. Erin Ealba. She was asking me about why I came to AADOCR, what my research interests were, and what were my career goal. Of course, as a pre-doctoral investigator, I was (and still am) full of enthusiasm for being involved in student organizing at the national level—especially within the community of student and post-doctoral dental researchers. Erin suggested to me that I run for a NSRG officer position and she felt that the experience was very rewarding. At that moment, something clicked while thinking about the various positions, I committed to running for NSRG President. It required a high level of time commitment, a 2-year term (President-elect and President). After campaigning and recruiting other students to run for office, I was elected as President-elect under another friend, Dr. Nate Lawson, (Instagram handle: Dentinaltube). Between Erin’s encouragement and the complimentary interests and skillsets between Nate and myself, we were poised to be very successful. At that time, Erin and Nate had spearheaded policy to allow the NSRG President to be a full voting member of the AADOCR Board of Directors—Nate would be the first, I would be the second.
When I began my term as Student Representative to the Board, the CEO of AADOCR/IADR, Christopher Fox, organized an executive leadership training bootcamp for the AADOCR Board. I think this was the first time the student representative was involved in this process. I would say this was the single most influential leadership training that I have participated in. Never before had I thought about the distinction or connection between “doing work” and “decision making”—that these two processes should be conceptually separated. I now approach nearly all my management tasks in this way. By first considering the decisions that must be made and the resultant actions and the work that must be done. This would also include identifying who to delegate the work to and why, not just taking on tasks oneself. After this whirlwind leadership training, dove into the actions of the AADOCR Board. I was empowered by this training to engage with the AADOCR leadership in the decision-making process, something that continues to this day. This experience solidified my future interest in running for AADOCR and IADR elected positions and has been extremely useful being a successful Principal Investigator at NIDCR.
5. What do you view as the best way for other members to become more involved in AADOCR and get the most out of the membership?
There are variety of important ways to get involved. I think starting with the website is always the first step. I think also reflecting on your commitment level can really help you hone in on what level of involvement is right for you. In my opinion, one can get a lot of important work done through the numerous geographic AADOCR Sections or the IADR Scientific Groups and Networks—especially members at academic institutions where there are numerous members and student members who can be directly helped through your organizing.
I would say that volunteering to serve on an AADOCR or IADR committees is vital to the execution of the organization. While I have not personally been involved at this level, it is in my plan to begin soon. Many of my dental research friends are continually involved and find it highly rewarding.