Dr. Joe Hefner receives five-year NIH funding to develop graphical library for craniofacial anomalies

The Department of Anthropology is pleased to announce that the National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Department of Anthropology Assistant Professor Joseph T. Hefner (Co-PI) and colleagues at the University of Kentucky (PI: Dr. Melissa Clarkson) a five year $1,447,281 grant to develop a standardized graphic library to assist clinicians and biomedical researchers in communicating anatomical concepts and patient-specific anatomy.

The project—Developing standardized graphic libraries for anatomy: A focus on human craniofacial anatomy and phenotypes—began Summer of 2021. The purpose of the graphic library is to support rapid and anatomically-accurate communication in clinical practice, medical education, and clinical research. The graphics will depict craniofacial anatomy, variation in phenotypes, and anomalies of clinical importance (such as orofacial clefting) and serve as standardized visual representations for information systems and software applications. The research team will develop graphical representations of both adult and developmental anatomy. Their work will include developing prototypes for two web-based tools—one incorporating graphics into the Human Phenotype Ontology and the other documenting craniofacial phenotypes and malformations in clinical settings.

As a biological anthropologist, Dr. Hefner brings both his knowledge of global human craniofacial variation and his understanding of biometric methods to this work. Dr. Hefner notes that his contribution to the project “will provide a more nuanced understanding of craniofacial anomalies to the clinician, based in part on a better understanding of human variation.”

Project PI, Dr. Clarkson, explained, “I am very happy to have Dr. Hefner on this project. Our goal is to clarify the definitions and classifications used to describe craniofacial phenotypes and malformations. Many definitions are based on population-level data. For example, ‘wide mouth’ is defined as the distance between the corners of the mouth greater than two standard deviations above the mean. But what does that look like in a living individual? Drawing that phenotype will depend on population-level data, and that data should reflect different ages and populations. Dr. Hefner will help us to understand population-level differences in phenotypes and how to incorporate craniometric and macromorphoscopic datasets into our work.”

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Hefner on this exciting, collaborative, and important new project!

“The National Institutes of Health is the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world, investing nearly $43 billion in fiscal year 2021 to enhance life, and reduce illness and disability. NIH-funded research has led to breakthroughs and new treatments helping people live longer, healthier lives, and building the research foundation that drives discovery.” For more information, visit www.nih.gov.