Naman Rao is a dentist-scientist originally from India, now working in Boston to improve early diagnosis of malignant oral disorders. He discusses how simplicity is key when developing research for a global context.
My research group and I are working to improve the early diagnosis of oral submucous fibrosis (OSMF), a precancerous oral disorder, which causes chronic inflammation and a progressive inability to open the mouth. OSMF is a major growing global problem, with more than 2.5 million diagnoses a year. It’s traditionally prevalent in South and Southeastern Asian countries but has shown a sudden flare in the western world where a lack of clinical exposure means patients often remain undiagnosed. Since the disorder has high malignant transformation and high metastasis rates, failure to diagnose and treat early can lead to potentially fatal cancer. By collaborating with research groups from across the world, my team has been successful in changing the clinical definition and treatment paradigm of OSMF.
For our team, the words ‘simplicity, applicability, and generalizability’ are the key to impactful research. We strive to ensure our research findings are communicated in a way that keeps an audience outside of the scientific community engaged. We aim to write the literature in an easily comprehensible language, and I believe that even the charts and data graphs we publish should be understandable by anyone who is interested in reading our research. Taking this approach has given me an incredible opportunity to spread my research findings more widely and have a greater influence on society.
I have learned so much from the mentors I have worked with throughout my research career. One of those mentors is my supervisor, who I continue to collaborate within my current research of oral cancers. His open-minded approach to clinical problems has inspired me to conceive creative solutions in the face of difficult enigmas.
Q: What kind of mindset do you need to achieve the Next Great Impossible?
A: Working on global problems requires a global mindset. I believe that the only way to create research that will positively impact society is to make simplicity and applicability the goal.