Written August 19, 2021

Julia Dworan, MBBS

Mentor: Dr. Jill Helms

Dr. Julia Dworan’s story honestly sounds like a fairytale, a bit too good to be true. When her partner was offered a fellowship in a Stanford lab—six thousand miles away—she thought there were only hard choices ahead of her.

“He asked if I wanted to come, I said ‘yes.’ But on the condition I could do research myself,” said Dworan. Thankfully, his PI made a few calls and found a lab doing exactly the type of research she was interested in… right across the street in the lab of Dr. Jill Helms DDS, PhD.

Helms’ lab performs basic and translational research with the goal of better understanding craniofacial development as well as regenerative dental medicine. This matched perfectly with Dworan’s training to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at the University of Vienna.

Six months into her time here, Dworan says she’s working on a suite of diverse project including one on cradiodiaphyseal dysplasia (CDD), also known as lionitis. CDD is an extremely rare genetic disorder where the bones of the face continue to grow laterally causing severe deformation that leads to blindness, difficulty breathing, and eventually death.

CDD is the most severe example in a broad family of diseases. So far, Dworan and her team have developed a mouse model that mimics this type of bone accrual.

“You have to know how it works,” said Dworan. “Then you can think about how to help the patients, see if there is a treatment.”

Dworan’s position is funded by the Max Kade Foundation, which promotes Germanic studies and transatlantic exchange through single-year grants. At the end of her year, Dworan plans to return to Austria and complete her degree in dentistry.

 I definitely want to work with patients again; all of this work is about helping patients,” said Dworan.”But I also want to continue to do research. I've already learned so much, I think it would be a waste to forget it, and with the knowledge I've gained I can bring the research forward in Austria too.”