Associate Dean for Research
Two years ago
I left my post as associate dean for basic sciences and Carolina
Distinguished Professor of Developmental Biology and Anatomy at
the University of South Carolina School of Medicine to come to NYUCD.
I came because Dean Alfano persuaded me that NYUCD, long known for
producing excellent clinicians, was in the process of creating a
strong research engine capable of significantly advancing the knowledge
base in oral health. He told me that the College was being transformed,
both philosophically and physically, but I could not have imagined
how far-reaching the changes would be.
a Priority and Sharpening its Focus
research philosophy today is dramatically different from what it
was 10 years ago. Research today is a priority, and because it is,
all major decisions made at the College are considered not solely
on their own terms but also in terms of how the decision will affect
our ability to do research. Another major change is the redefinition
of what it means to do research. In the past, people
tried to be all things to all people, doing any kind of research
they could in any way they could as long as they were doing research.
Now, instead of a scattershot approach to research, we are electing
to focus on specific areas. Oral cancer is one of those areas. From
a public health point of view it is certainly a well-founded choice,
because it is an area in which dentistry can have a major impact
on general health. The oral cancer initiative is twofold: there
is the epidemiology and health promotion aspectoral cancer
screenings and awareness campaignsand the basic science investigations
into the fundamental mechanisms of oral cancer.
to a lack of focus, there was the problem of isolation. Not only
at NYUCD, but at other academic dental institutions as well, there
were basic science research people doing fundamental research in
cancer, cariology, or microbiology in their individual research
labs, while clinical research people were off somewhere else working
on xerostomia or other clinical conditions. They were independent
entities. But in todays market, research institutions can
no longer remain competitive in that way. In order to be productive,
groups of individuals must work together synergistically.
To Translational Research
to making research a priority and sharpening its focus, another
key component of our research strategy is designed to foster interactions
and collaborations among the world-class research faculty who have
joined our ranks in recent years. Our objective is to build a bridge
between the basic sciences and the clinical sciences in order to
move fundamental basic science research into the clinic. This approach
is called translational researchthink of overlapping spheresbecause
it translates novel basic science findings into testable hypotheses
for evaluation in clinical trials. Dr. Dianne Rekow, who recently
joined NYUCD, is responsible for implementing this philosophy.
NYUCD will still
conduct pure clinical research, such as studies on pain, implants,
and whitening agents. And we will still have people doing research
in very basic areas that may never be enacted in patient trials.
But more and more will be translational research that begins in
human or animal tissue experimentation and provides the groundwork
to be translated into the clinical setting.
science researchers are already changing their orientation. Instead
of thinking exclusively about fundamental mechanisms, they are also
thinking about things that might be useful in the clinical setting
five to ten years into the future. A major stimulus for this new
kind of thinking comes from the revolution in bio-technology that
arose from the human genome projects exploration of our molecular
selves. Simply put, things that people thought would happen far
into the future are happening now.
We can expect
that this new synergy among research orientations will look very
much like the emerging model in biomedicine, where materials designed
and tested at academic medical centers also move into clinical trials
and practice there. This can easily be imagined at NYUCD in terms
of implant materials.
Our goal within
the next five years is to double research productivity at NYUCD
and to see it thoroughly integrated into the fabric of the College.
This will be achieved in three ways. First, the new Bluestone Center
for Clinical Research will provide an optimal environment in which
to conduct patient-oriented research designed to develop specific
therapies. The results will be a tremendous boon to industry and
ultimately to practitioners and patients. Second, basic science
and translational research will be fully integrated approaches focused
on producing specific clinical research hypotheses that can be tested
at the Bluestone Center. Third, our epidemiology and health promotion
activities will continue to expand. In short, well have the
whole gamut of research in important areas of dentistry being conducted
at NYUCD. The missing piece that we require is federal support for
clinical research. We will begin to build the reputation of the
Bluestone Center with contracts from corporations, and then pursue
NIH-funded clinical studies, which are peer reviewed and judged
to be among the highest-quality research it is possible to conduct.
In the short
term, my goal is to continue to build an insfrastructure that facilitates
research by giving faculty protected time from excessive paperwork
and bureaucracy. And in addition to facilitating interaction among
the major scientists at the College, we want to promote interaction
with their colleagues throughout NYU, the United States, and the
world in order to achieve bigger and better synergistic projects
that are capable of improving oral health at the global level.