NIDCR grant

Dental school aims to be known for research excellence

Building a solid research program while not compromising students' clinical education is a major challenge facing the School of Dental Medicine.

To be "recognized as a center for research excellence" is one of the school's long-term goals. The goal coincides with a renewed emphasis on research—and on having students work in collaboration with faculty on substantive research—throughout the university.

"We've been working for several years to increase our research efforts, including hiring new faculty and building laboratories," said Dean Lonnie H. Norris. "There's a lot more we can and should do. I promise we also will maintain our excellent clinical reputation. In fact, I think a reputation for research can actually strengthen our clinical reputation."

The school recently received some help in achieving its research objectives. Tufts is one of 15 dental schools in the country to receive a National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) planning grant to improve research infrastructure in U.S. dental schools. The $100,000 grant is phase I of the NIDCR initiative, and recipients will use the money to devise plans to create a critical mass of researchers in selected areas that will enhance dental schools' ability to pursue cutting-edge research on oral, dental and craniofacial diseases and disorders. Phase II would be an award of up to $1 million to implement those strategic plans.

A matter of emphasis
"We've been talking a long time about improving what we do," said Mark Gonthier, associate dean of admissions and student affairs. "And now that we are feeling good about what we do, we have time to think about what we want to do, about what direction we want the school to go—and how."

One long-range goal is to increase from 5 percent to 10 percent the number of dental students extensively involved in research. A packed clinical curriculum, especially for third- and fourth-year students, places constraints on students' availability to do research. Recommendations for achieving that goal include hiring research administrative staff and faculty who have existing research grants; providing clinical faculty time to do research; improving the school's research facilities and ensuring that a dental materials expert is available to students because much clinical dental research involves testing various materials.

Longer-term goals call for a dedicated research center, programs to encourage young faculty just beginning research and either a dual-degree (D.M.D./Ph.D.) or a Ph.D. degree program.