VCU becomes first Virginia university to offer Ph.D. in oral health research

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A new Ph.D. program at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry will provide training for students who wish to pursue research in oral health or the biomedical sciences.

The Doctor of Philosophy program in oral health research, which is focused on cancer, infection and stem cell engineering, will welcome its inaugural class in the fall semester. VCU is the first university in the state to offer a Ph.D. program focused on oral health research.

The importance of good oral health, and its relationship to overall human health, is well documented.

“The importance of good oral health, and its relationship to overall human health, is well documented,” said David Sarrett, D.M.D., dean of the VCU School of Dentistry. “The Ph.D. program in oral health research will emphasize these relationships in training future researchers, who will make discoveries and translate them to improved patient care by dentists and oral health care providers.”

Doctoral-level faculty primarily from School of Dentistry, and also from the School of Medicine and School of Engineering, will mentor students through cross-disciplinary research projects in the program, which emphasizes independent research and culminates in the completion of an original research project.

“While the program is based in the School of Dentistry, it will have active collaborations across the university allowing for mutual exchange of talent and expertise,” said program director Oonagh Loughran, Ph.D.

Research will be carried out in the Philips Institute for Oral Health Research, which is an education and research center housed in the School of Dentistry focused on cancer, infection and genetic diseases of the head and neck.

Oonagh Loughran, Ph.D.
Oonagh Loughran, Ph.D.

Almost 60,000 people will develop head and neck cancer this year, and estimates indicate more than 12,000 deaths will occur this year as a result of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

Graduates of the Ph.D. program will be prepared to become the next generation of research principal investigators who are seeking treatments and cures for oral cancer as well as a variety of other diseases related to oral health.

“The students we train will go on to lead their own research groups to tackle these diseases,” Loughran said. “This new degree is building on the research capability that we have now at VCU, while also looking to the future with VCU becoming not just recognized for our good clinical dentists, but also for our contributions to oral health research.”

For more information and to apply to the program, please visit