PhD in Oral Biology

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Use the links below to navigate through the PhD in Oral Biology Program Contents:
For Program Information or to Schedule an Appointment, please email Dr. Philip Trackman.

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Program Description

Outlines the importance of research in the oral cavity and specifies ideal candidates for acceptance into the program.

Research Areas

Describes the diverse research topics and expertise available for dissertation research.

Requirements and Curriculum

Describes requirements and curriculum for Post-Bachelor PhD Candidates and Master’s degree, Dental or Medical degree candidates.

Course Descriptions

Provides detailed course descriptions, credits and anticipated semesters.

Program Administration

Outlines the Student Affairs Committee administration and duties, Clinical Activities and Eligibility for Admission.

Graduation Requirements

Outlines graduation requirements for all students.

Faculty PhD Mentors

Provides a list of PhD Faculty Mentors in the Department of Periodontology and Oral Biology and links to their Profile pages where you will find more information about their background, expertise and publications.

Printed Materials


Program Description

The oral cavity is unique in its microbiology, connective tissue structures, and host responses. Moreover, oral diseases present unsolved scientific challenges and novel biological phenomena. The importance of understanding the oral biology of diseases, whose incidence and severity increase with age, is clearly understood within the context of current demographic trends.

The program:

  • Recruits students with strong backgrounds in the life and basic sciences who are interested in additional advanced training in dental and medical sciences. Applicants should have a BS in a life science; DMDs and MDs or equivalent can be eligible depending on the strength of scientific training.
  • Aims to educate students in modern scientific approaches to oral biology and oral disease research.
  • Accommodates and trains students whose primary goal is to pursue research in oral biology as a primary professional activity.

The PhD Program in Oral Biology adds a new dimension to graduate programs at the GSDM. It is not a substitute for the existing DSc degree in Oral Biology. The DSc program is limited to three years, and provides dentists the opportunity to expand knowledge in basic science research related to oral biology. Students typically complete 20 credits of didactic course work. In contrast, the PhD program will train people whose goals are to pursue research in oral biology as a primary professional activity. The PhD will typically require five years, with extensive didactic and research training described below. Thus, compared to the DSc degree, the PhD Program in Oral Biology will be longer in duration, more rigorous, and will prepare students for a career in basic oral biology research.
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Research Areas

  • Structure, function, biosynthesis, and genetics of salivary proteins;
  • Protein-mineral interactions and their role in the function of mineralized tissues;
  • Mechanisms of pellicle and plaque formation;
  • Mechanisms of tumor suppression;
  • Mechanisms and regulation of exocrine processes;
  • Oral host defense mechanisms in caries and periodontal disease;
  • Post-translational modifications, with particular emphasis on phosphorylation of salivary proteins;
  • Production of growth and chemotactic factors by normal and transformed mesenchymal and hematopoietic cells;
  • The study of developmental biology with emphasis on understanding oral pathologies;
  • Regulation of connective tissue accumulation in mineralized and non-mineralized oral tissues;
  • Connective tissue production by primary periodontal cells and effects of fibrogenic drugs and cytokines;
  • Tissue specific responses to environmental and pharmacologic agents that underlie oral diseases;
  • Clinical components focusing on inflammation, periodontal disease, tissue fibrosis, aging, developmental defects and oral cancer.

Studies are carried out in collaboration with the clinical and basic science faculty at the GSDM and at Boston University Medical Center and beyond. Opportunities for clinical collaborations have recently been strengthened with the commitment of clinical facilities, such as the Center for Clinical Research.
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Requirements and Curriculum

Post-Bachelors PhD Candidates

Post-bachelors PhD candidates will complete 40 credits of didactic course work and credits in
dissertation directed laboratory research for a total of 64 credits. Most candidates require five years to fulfill these requirements.

Additional credits will be obtained from at least two courses in biochemistry, biophysics, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, or other Division courses with permission from the instructor, the advisor and the PhD Program Director.

Master’s degree, Dental or Medical Degree Candidates

Students already holding a Master’s degree or dental and medical degrees may be permitted to complete 12-16 credits of didactic course work. This requires approval from the Student Affairs Committee, and must be specifically requested by the student. The choice of courses will depend on the candidate’s background and training.

The course curriculum consists of the following core didactic courses, plus supplementary courses selected from the following list of graduate school courses offered by GSDM.

Required Courses All Candidates

  • GMS OB 763 Introductory Oral Biology A
  • GMS OB 764 Introductory Oral Biology B
  • GMS OB 800 Advanced Oral Biology
  • GMS OB 761 Oral Microbiology
  • GMS OB 700 Biostatistics
  • GMS OB 805/806 Oral Biology Seminar /Journal Club
  • GMS FC 701 Protein Structure, Catalysts and Interaction
  • GMS FC 702 Structure & Function of the Genome
  • GMS FC 703 Architecture & Dynamics of the Cell
  • GMS FC 704 Mechanisms of Cell Communication

* Specific permission for enrollment of new PhD candidates/year must be obtained from the course directors.


Anticipated Typical Course Selections by Candidates

First Year

  • Basic Processes in Oral Biology (2 semesters)
  • Oral Microbiology (1 semester)
  • Oral Biology Seminar (2 semesters)
  • Protein Structure, Catalysts & Interaction (1 semester)
  • Structure and Function of the Genome (1 semester)
  • Architecture and Dynamics of the Cell (1 semester)
  • Mechanisms of Cell Communication (1 semester)

Second Year

  • Applied Statistics (1 semester)
  • Advanced Oral Biology (1 semester)
  • Oral Biology Seminar (2 semesters)
  • Elective Course (2 semesters)

Note that GSDM offers Advanced Oral Biology (SDM OB 800) every two years. This allows for a class size of four PhD candidates from the Division of Oral Biology. Thus, some PhD candidates take this course in year 3 instead of year 2. If the class size is greatly increased due to course enrollment by interested students from other Division of Graduate Medical Sciences departments, GSDM will consider offering this course every year.
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Course Descriptions

GMS OB 763 and 764: Basic Processes in Oral Biology

An introductory survey course that examines biological processes at the cellular and molecular levels and provides a basis to understand the events that regulate inflammation, wound healing, bone formation and resorption, salivary proteins and physiology, tooth development, eruption and movement, and fluoride action. Dr. Yoshiyuki Mochida is the course director. Lecturers are recognized experts in their fields, some of whom come from institutions other than Boston University.
(4 credits, 2 semesters)

GMS OB 761: Oral Microbiology

This course discusses the distribution, ecology, and pathogenic potential of oral micro biota; pathogenicity of components of bacterial plaque and their role in the development of oral diseases; mechanisms of local and systematic resistance to pathogenic oral micro biota.
(2 credits, 1 semester)

SDM PH 803: Biostatistics

Introduces the concepts and techniques of biostatistics used in dental research. Emphasizes the fundamentals of statistical logic and presents the basic principles of experimental design, statistical inference, and probability. Examples from the current basic sciences research, survey research, and clinical trials augment the presentation of statistical theory.
(2 credits, 1 semester)

GMS OB 800: Advanced Oral Biology:

This advanced course will explore, in depth, current topics in oral biology research. Whereas GMS OB 763 and 764 are general survey courses, GMS OB 800 explores fewer topics, but in greater depth. This course consists of both a formal didactic lecture format and a journal club format in which students are challenged to analyze experimental approaches and methods from the current literature. This course is designed to provide students with basic knowledge and to develop critical thinking abilities. Topics will include host molecular, cellular, and genetic bases of periodontal diseases; microbiology of periodontal diseases; molecular events in inflammation, would healing and periodontal tissue regeneration; molecular components and function of the periodontal ligament, cementum and attachment structures; biosynthesis and functions of oral mucins, endocrine-dependent periodontal changes; effects of growth factors on periodontal tissues and cells; the molecular basis for gingival hyperplasia and fibrosis; biosynthesis and structure of salivary proteins, and mechanisms of non-immune antibacterial processes in the oral cavity. Prerequisite course include GMS OB 763 and 764; GMS BI 755 and 756.
(1 semester, 4 credits)

GMS OB 805 & 806: Oral Biology Seminar

PhD candidates attend a seminar series organized by the Division of Oral Biology. In addition, students participate in a weekly journal club in which faculty select articles and supervise students’ presentations and critiques. Enrollment in this course is required for two years. PhD candidates are required to attend all seminars for the entire period of the study.
(2 credits, 2 semesters)

GMS FC 701: Protein Structure, Catalysts and Interaction

The first module of the Foundations in Biomedical Science course will provide students with a quantitative understanding of protein structure, function, post-translational modification and the turnover of proteins in the cell. In addition, students will gain facility with thermodynamics, catalysts, kinetics and binding equilibria as they apply to proteins and also to other molecules in biological systems (e.g. nucleic acids, lipids, vitamins, etc.). The quantitative aspects of the module will be reinforced with two graded problem sets that students will peer-mentor in breakout sessions. One breakout session will introduce key elements in bioinformatics including protein sequence searching and three dimensional molecular graphics in a problem-based format. Readings from Molecular Biology of Cell by Alberts et al., and Biochemistry by Berg et al., will reinforce and expand upon material covered in the lectures. Reading from current and classic literature will also be used. Lecture notes and figures will be available to students online. Students will be evaluated based on their performance on one quiz, one exam two problem sets and participation in the breakout sessions.
(2 Credits, Fall semester, 1st year)

GMS FC 702: Structure and Function of the Genome

The second module of the Foundations in Biomedical Science course will focus on the mechanisms of biological processes that influence the inheritance, regulation and utilization of genes. Genetic and genomic, molecular, cell biological, and biochemical experimental approaches to understanding these processes will be explored. In addition, the possibilities of utilizing these technologies in medical treatments will be discussed. The course is aimed toward first year PhD students in the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. The class will be taught by members of the Division in a variety of Departments utilizing a combination of traditional lectures and discussion sections focusing on primary research to total 7 hours of class time per week. Supplementary study materials used will be made available online on “Blackboard” to aid students in their review of the material. Reading materials will primarily be taken from current literature but will be supplemented by handouts supplied by the faculty. Students will be evaluated on their performance on take home exams and discussion sections. These exercises will be designed to test the students’ ability to think critically and apply genetic concepts to biological problems.
(2 credits, Fall semester, 1st year)

GMS FC 703: Architecture and Dynamics of the Cell:

The third module of the Foundation course will focus on the movement of proteins and membranes within the cell, the secretory process and communication with the extracellular matrix. Molecular, cell biological, and biochemical experimental approaches to understanding these technologies will be explored. In addition, possibilities of utilizing these technologies in medical treatments will be discussed. The course is aimed towards first year PhD students in the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. The class will be taught by members of the Division from a variety of Departments utilizing a combination of traditional lectures and discussion sections focusing on primary research to total 7 hours of class time per week. Supplementary study materials used will be made available online on “Blackboard” to aid students in their review of the material. Reading materials will primarily be taken from the current literature but will be supplemented by handouts supplied by the faculty. Students will be evaluated on their performance on a quiz, problem set, and examination along with active participation in discussion sections.
(2 credits, Fall semester, 1st year)

GMS FC 704: Mechanisms of Cell Communication

The fourth module of the Foundations in Biomedical Sciences course will focus on the mechanisms of cell communication. This module will begin discussion overarching concepts before examining the specific types of molecules that initiate and transduce signals. Examples of cell signaling and subsequent cellular responses will then be considered in different contexts to provide a framework on which future learning can be applied. As the module progresses, the complexity of the systems explored will increase from individual cells to multi-cellular environments such as tissues, organs and organisms.
In addition, normal processes as well as the dysregulation of cell-cell communication in disease will be studied. The course is aimed towards first year PhD students in the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. The class will be taught by members of the Division in a variety of Departments utilizing a combination of traditional lectures and discussion sections focusing on primary research. There will be a total of 7 hours of class time per week. Supplementary study materials will be made available using “Blackboard” to aid students in the review of the material. Reading materials will be taken primarily from scientific literature and will utilize examples of classical studies as well as recent works. Students will be evaluated on their performance on a quiz, problem set, and examination along with participation in discussion sections.
(2 credits, Spring semester, 1st year)
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Program Administration

Serge Dibart, DDS, DMD

Professor and Chair, Department of Periodontology and Oral Biology
Director, Advanced Specialty Education Program in Periodontics

Student Affairs Committee

The Student Affairs Committee, chaired by Dr. Philip Trackman and compiled of all core faculty of the Division of Oral Biology, administers the Oral Biology PhD program. This committee coordinates laboratory rotations, addresses student and faculty concerns and works closely with the Qualifying Exam Committee, chaired by Dr. Cataldo Leone.

Clinical Activities

Clinical activities for PhD candidates are discouraged. Under rare circumstances a maximum of half-day per month of clinical practice may be allowed. This arrangement requires approval by the PhD Program Director, the Chairman of the Department of Periodontology and Oral Biology, and the Dean.

Eligibility for Admission

Requirements for admission to the Oral Biology PhD program are identical to those for all departmental PhD degrees administered by the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences as described in the Academic Policies and Procedures. Principal requirements are summarized as follows:

  • Students, who have completed an undergraduate degree, preferably with a major in the biological, chemical, or physical sciences, as well as master, dental and medical degree holders, will be eligible for the PhD program.
  • A minimum of 28 credits, or the equivalent, of courses in the biological and physical sciences is required.
  • Applicants are required to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General Test. In addition, a GRE Subject Test in a basic science field such as Biology, Chemistry, or Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is encouraged*.

The Admissions Committee, chaired by Dr. Philip Trackman, consists of faculty members from the Division of Oral Biology.

*Applicants whose native language is not English must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and must achieve a score of at least 95 (internet exam).
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Graduation Requirements

A. Successful candidates will pass a comprehensive qualifying examination by the end of the second year. The qualifying examination committee consists of five core faculty members of the Division of Oral Biology. The committee meets yearly to evaluate students’ performance and to design the examination. The examination includes written and oral components. The written component consists of short answer and essay questions, and is given at the end of the first year and covers knowledge in biochemistry, oral microbiology, and topics covered in Basic Processes in Oral Biology (GMS OB 763 and 764). The oral exam is given upon completion of the second year. The exam is designed for each student, taking into consideration the completed courses. For example, as GMS OB 800 is offered every two years, some students will not completed the courses by the end of the second year. Elective course(s) selected by each student are also considered.

The two hour oral exam covers both knowledge and ability to critically evaluate current research in oral biology. Recent scientific papers are chosen and assigned by the committee in advance of the exam. Students are asked to read and present an oral critique of the paper. This is followed by a question period that includes testing each candidate’s knowledge of oral biology, and the candidate’s critique of the assigned paper. The examination committee administers both the written and oral components of the exam.

Students who fail a qualifying exam will be given one additional opportunity to pass a new version of the failed exam. A second failure, of either the written or oral qualifying exam, will result in termination of the student from the PhD Program in Oral Biology. Students may petition the Student Affairs Committee for the award of the MSD based on performance in didactic courses. Award of the MSD will be decided on a case by case basis, based on the student’s performance in didactic courses and research, and also requires approval from the Dean of the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. Petitions for an award of an MS degree from another GMS department may also be possible and is determined on a case-by-case basis.

B. Students are required to maintain a minimum of a B average in all course work. Six credits of C+ or lower will result in termination of the student from the program.

C. During the first year, each student is required to complete at least three research rotations in the program faculty laboratories. This is supervised and coordinated by the Chairman of the Student Affairs Committee, who will serve as advisor to all PhD candidates prior to choosing his/her research advisor. By the end of the first year, each student is required to request a research advisor and a research topic, as directed by the Student Affairs Committee. Dissertation research is conducted under the supervision and guidance of the research advisor, a member or the faculty (see Faculty Listing). Assignment of students to laboratories by the Student Assignment Committee is made at a summer faculty meeting of the Division of Oral Biology. In consultation with the advisor, a student selects a minimum of four additional faculty members to act as the Dissertation Advisory Committee. The Dissertation Advisory Committee meets with the candidate annually to monitor the progress of research and course work. This committee has the power to recommend to the Student Affairs Committee that a student be placed on probation. If the student fails to meet requirements specified by the Student Affairs Committee, in consultation with the Dissertation Advisory Committee, the student may be dismissed from the PhD Program in Oral Biology without award of the PhD degree.

D. Candidates for PhD degrees are required to submit a written dissertation describing original research and demonstrating the development of independent scholarship.

E. Students are required to defend their dissertations at final oral examinations. Students are expected to demonstrate expertise in their chosen field of specialization and to provide documentation of their contribution to the accumulated body of knowledge. The oral examination is conducted by the Dissertation Committee composed of at least five members of the GSDM and Boston University School of Medicine faculty. It is expected that members of the candidate’s Dissertation Advisory Committee will also serve on the Dissertation Committee. One member of the Dissertation Committee must be from a department other than the Division of Oral Biology. In some cases, at the discretion of the Chair of the Dissertation of the Committee, one of the five Dissertation Committee members could be appointed from outside of the university.

F. Students who fail to meet any requirement for the PhD degree may be dismissed from the PhD Program without award of any degree. Students can petition the Student Affairs Committee for award of the MSD and an MS degree. The award of Master’s degrees depends upon didactic and research accomplishments, and will be considered on a case by case basis. Award of the MSD requires, in addition, approval by the Dean of the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine.
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Faculty PhD Mentors

Salomon Amar, DMD, PhD

Professor
Director of the Center for Anti-Inflammatory Therapeutics

Frank Oppenheim, DMD, PhD

Professor
Henry M. Goldman Distinguished Scientist

Robert Gyurko, DDS, PhD

Associate Professor.

Erdjan Salih, BS, PhD

Associate Professor

Eva Helmerhorst, BS, MS, PhD

Associate Professor

Philip Trackman, PhD

Professor
Director of Oral Biology Research

Yoshiyuki Mochida, DDS, PhD

Associate Professor

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