Two women wearing lab coats, facemasks, and rubber glovers working
Oral health is intrinsically tied to overall health and is driven by the same biological processes affecting cancer, heart disease and a wide range of infectious diseases. (John Wallace, VCU School of Dentistry)

VCU School of Dentistry ranks 17th among U.S. dental schools in NIH funding

Last year the school received more than $4.8 million from the National Institutes of Health for research.

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The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry is now ranked 17th among all U.S. dental schools in National Institutes of Health research funding, according to the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research. In 2021, the school received more than $4.8 million from the NIH to advance a wide range of oral health and biomedical research.

“In spite of the challenges we’ve faced due to COVID, last year was exceptional for the school’s research mission,” said Iain Morgan, Ph.D., the Edmund G. Brodie Professor and director of the Philips Institute for Oral Health Research at VCU School of Dentistry. “Our steady progress is the result of nine years of focus into expanding research at the school.”

While many may not initially associate dental schools with advanced biomedical research, oral health is intrinsically tied to overall health and is driven by the same biological processes affecting cancer, heart disease and a wide range of infectious diseases. The field of dentistry is also on the cutting edge of materials research and epidemiology.

“The seed was planted before the turn of this century, but in 2011 it was truly cultivated by former dean David Sarrett. Dr. Sarrett pushed the school to be a leader in oral health research and accomplished great things during his tenure,” said Morgan, who also serves as associate dean for research at the School of Dentistry. In 2012, the school ranked 42nd among all schools of dentistry. “I want to thank all of the research faculty and everyone who works extremely hard at the bench, without them nothing could be accomplished. I’d also like to thank our administrative support team, particularly Ms. Dung Pham, who works tirelessly to support our efforts.”

The Philips Institute for Oral Health Research was established at VCU School of Dentistry in 1999 thanks to $5 million in philanthropic funding, including a $1.25 million gift made by John F. Philips, D.D.S., a 1969 alumnus, in honor of his father who died of throat cancer. In 2011, David Sarrett, D.M.D., at the time the dean of School of Dentistry, made the expansion of research a priority at the school and recruited Morgan as full-time director of the Philips Institute in 2013. Since then, the school’s focus on research has grown exponentially.

“This has been a collaborative effort and I couldn’t be more excited by the progress the school has made,” said Sarrett, who retired from full-time teaching at the School of Dentistry earlier this year and is continuing part time. “Through our research, we have made major contributions to science and medicine, and I’m proud to be a part of that legacy.”

The majority of the School of Dentistry research occurs at the Philips Institute where it is split into four programs: cancerbacterial infection and inflammationbioengineering and oral health services. A number of faculty, including Morgan, are research program members associated with VCU’s National Cancer Institute-designated Massey Cancer Center. The school also conducts research testing new dentistry materials and technology in both a translational and clinical setting, as well as epidemiological research associated with public policy affecting oral health. Students can enroll in several advanced degree programs, including an M.S in microbiology and immunology, a  Ph.D. in oral health research and a D.D.S.-Ph.D. in oral health research dual degree. A summer research program is also offered for students interested in pursuing a Ph.D.

“Our ascent in these rankings is truly a testament to the determination and commitment of everyone engaged in research at the school,” said Clara Spatafore, D.D.S., interim dean at VCU School of Dentistry and chair of the combined Department of Endodontics and Oral Diagnostic Sciences. “I’m confident this momentum will continue to build and VCU will be a world leader in oral health research.”

Visit VCU School of Dentistry’s website to learn more about the groundbreaking research occurring throughout the school as well as its advanced education programs.