Ralph V. Katz, D.M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.,
Professor and Chairman of the Department of Epidemiology and
may be an overused word, but it’s the only one that accurately
describes the NYU College of Dentistry (NYUCD)-University of Puerto
Rico School of Dentistry (UPRSD) partnership. Not only do these
two schools share a commitment to improving the oral health of Puerto
Ricans, both within the Commonwealth and in New York City; they
are also partners on a pre- and postdoctoral student-exchange program
and on three major NIH grants totaling over $10 million in awards
that will extend into 2008. But the ultimate expression of partnership
is a shared, jointly-appointed faculty member, Dr. Walter Psoter,
who spends the entire fall semester at NYUCD in New York City and
the entire spring semester at UPRSD in San Juan.
An indispensable condition
for the establishment and maintenance of a strong NYUCD-UPRSD connection
is the fluid, back-and-forth migration patterns between Puerto Rico
and the U.S. mainland. Equally important is the “people”
factor. As the principal investigator for the NYU Minority Oral
Health Research Center (MOHRC), one of four Regional Research Centers
for Minority Oral Health funded by a major NIH/NIDCR grant that
ran from 1992 to 2000, Dr. Racquel Z. LeGeros, Professor of Biomaterials
and Biomimetics and the Linkow Professor of Implant Dentistry, forged
strong ties with UPRSD. Under her guidance, Dr. Gustavo Cruz, who
received his dental degree from UPR, and Dr. Diana Galvis, who received
training in both dental assisting and dental hygiene at UPR, strengthened
their research skills at the MOHRC and have gone on to become full-time
faculty members at NYUCD.
Dr. Cruz, who became
an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology & Health Promotion and
Director of Public Health and Health Promotion in 2000, is currently
the co-principal investigator on two NIDCR grants on oral cancer,
one a major clinical trial on smoking cessation, and the other a
project to plan and implement a New York State oral cancer prevention
program. For the past three years he has also conducted a study
of the oral health status of elderly Puerto Ricans, a collaborative
effort among NYUCD, UPRSD, and UPR’s School of Public Health
with funding from both the NIH and the Puerto Rican government.
Dr. Galvis, NYUCD Class of 2002, was recently appointed an Instructor
in Cariology and Operative Dentistry and the Director of Dental
Anatomy for the first-year curriculum.
Another offshoot of
the MOHRC was a collaborative NYUCD-UPRSD student summer research
program during which several UPR dental students spent summers at
NYUCD working on MOHRC projects. By the summer of 2000, as part
of the Tuskegee Legacy Project, which I co-direct with Dr. Cristina
Claudio of UPRSD, four UPR dental students and two NYU dental students
were studying the effects of acculturation on the willingness of
Puerto Ricans to participate as research subjects in biomedical
The project continued
the following year in the NYUCD laboratories of Dr. Kathleen Kinnally,
Professor of Basic Sciences, and Dr. Peter Sacks, Associate Professor
of Basic Sciences, and it appears that it will be ongoing.
Now, we come to Dr. Psoter,
who had been serving four-month rotations at UPRSD as part of the
NYU Oral Epidemiology Postdoctoral Training Program (an NIH/NIDCR
Long-term Research Training Grant, now in its 11th year producing
dentists with Ph.D. degrees in epidemiology).
An early indication of
the success of his joint appointment is Dr. Psoter’s role
as co-investigator and writer on a three-year, $1 million NIH/NIDCR
Research Infrastructure grant at UPRSD, in which NYUCD is a major
partner. Another indication is the fact that, under the mentorship
of the grant’s principal investigator, Dr. Augusto Elias-Bonito,
Director of Research at UPRSD, and Dr. Psoter, postgraduate students
at UPRSD have begun to win annual research prizes in campuswide
postgraduate student research competitions.
The growing partnership
between NYUCD and UPRSD also figured prominently in our success
last year in being awarded a seven-year, $8.3 million NIH/NIDCR
grant to establish the NYU Oral Cancer Research for Adolescent and
Adult Health Promotion (RAAHP) Center. Large components of three
of the RAAHP Center’s major studies are based at UPRSD, and
Dr. Elias serves as co-director of the RAAHP Center.
One of these studies,
“Environmental and Genetic Risk Factors in Oral Epithelial
Dysplasia (OED) in Puerto Rico” (principal investigator: Dr.
Douglas Morse, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology & Health
Promotion at NYUCD) is a partnership with Dr. Terri Bravo, a UPRSD
professor with a strong background in oral cancer research and education,
which involves obtaining OED cases from virtually all the pathology
laboratories in Puerto Rico. Another study, “Current and Emerging
Technologies in Diagnosing Oral Cancer” (principal investigator:
Dr. David Sirois, Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department
of Oral Medicine at NYUCD) will compare six leading oral cancer
detection techniques currently available to dental practitioners.
Our major partner in this study is Dr. Francisco Bermudez, an oral
and maxillofacial surgeon and immunologist at UPRSD.
The third major RAAHP
Center study with a strong UPRSD component is “Factors Affecting
Cancer Screening and Research Subject Participation in Minorities,”
which is a random, digit dial telephone cross-cultural interview
of 1,800 Hispanics, African Americans and Caucasians in San Juan,
New York City and Baltimore. I am the PI and UPRSD Professor Cristina
Claudio is a co-investigator.
The most recent collaboration
between NYUCD and UPRSD is a jointly-held UPRSD pilot study of the
relationship between preterm birth delivery and periodontal disease,
conducted by Dr. Ananda Dasanayake, Associate Professor of Epidemiology
& Health Promotion and Director of the M.S. Program in Clinical
Research at NYUCD, and Dr. Lydia Lopez, Associate Professor of Ecological
Sciences, at UPRSD.
NYUCD and UPRSD are
extremely proud of the relationship they have created. This unique,
inter-university connection is a win-win for our universities, our
faculties, and our students, as well as for dental science and education
and the oral health of Puerto Ricans residing both within the Commonwealth
and in New York City.