Oral Biology

Program Overview

Oral biology is a highly translational, multi-disciplinary program of study that focuses on the growth, development, and pathologies of the craniofacial complex, oral cavity, and associated physiological structures, as well as the study of disease and healing mechanisms related to these structures.  The program has three concentrations:

The concepts of biology and medicine are applied and extended toward understanding the dynamics of disease within the craniofacial complex and the treatment/prevention at the earliest stages of development. Within the three concentrations there are multiple areas of study including:

Immunology/bacteriology/virology                 Embryology

Physiology                                                            Cellular & Molecular Biology

Neurobiology                                                       Tissue Engineering & regeneration

Pharmacology                                                      Biochemistry

Expertise and authority in these particular concepts are well-represented within the research and training qualifications of program faculty located in numerous UNC programs and departments, including the School of Dentistry, School of Medicine, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Neurosciences Center, the Center for Cystic Fibrosis, and the Center for AIDS Research.  Curricular requirements are based on training concentrations, with common core requirements for all students.

Concentration Areas

Host-Pathogen Interactions
Director of Concentration: Roland Arnold

The Concentration in Host-Pathogen Interactions focuses on chronic inflammatory conditions and encompasses the study of infectious diseases and host responses.  This concentration focuses on the underlying pathologies associated with infectious diseases, as well as the nature and regulation of host responses which result in acute and chronic inflammatory disorders, in order to develop therapeutic approaches to the treatment of these conditions.  Below are research areas of the faculty in the Host-Pathogen concentration:

Pain Neurobiology
Director of Concentration: Andrea Nackley

Concentration in Pain Neurobiology is directed toward mechanisms involved in the development, maintenance, and treatment of pain. The training faculty include a multidisciplinary team of clinical and basic scientists with training in genetics, molecular neurobiology, cell biology, pharmacology, physiology, biochemistry, and behavior who share an interest in pain disorders and mechanisms. A strong foundation in neuroscience as well as physiology is required for students in this concentration. The Pain Neurobiology concentration is associated with the Regional Center for Neurosensory Disorders at the UNC School of Dentistry. The didactic curriculum requirement for students in the Pain Neurobiology concentration includes the Oral Biology core curriculum and at least two electives in cellular and molecular neurobiology given by faculty in the Neurobiology Curriculum at UNC-CH.

Skeletal Biology and Extracellular Matrices
Director of Concentration: Eric Everett

The Concentration in Skeletal Biology and Extracellular Matrices encompasses the study of the development, structure and function of mineralized and connective tissues.  This program uses basic, translational, and biomedical engineering approaches to the study of bone, tooth and connective tissue physiology, pathology and repair.  Below are research areas of the faculty in the SBECM Program:

General Program of Study

The overall program is designed to be highly flexible to meet the diverse scientific goals of individual students. Students are required, each year, to present a poster at the annual Dental Research in Review or at a professional meeting and to give an oral presentation on current research progress.  The general program includes:

  Year 1:      Class work, laboratory rotations, weekly concentration seminars, selection of a research mentor.
Year 2:      Complete coursework, pass a written preliminary examination prepared as a research proposal in NIH grant format and an oral preliminary examination on the research proposal and basic concepts
Year 3:      Become intensively involved in research.
Year 4/5:   Publish two papers (at least one first-author), write a doctoral dissertation, and present a public seminar of your research results.

Coursework

There are 8 (minimum) required courses that may be taken, in part, during the first year in addition to the BBSP curriculum. These courses include:

The remaining required courses (including concentration specific courses) may be taken in the second year of study. The curriculum is very flexible and individually tailored to each student’s interests and goals.  Elective courses may be taken throughout the UNC-CH graduate curriculum.

Qualifying Exams

Written Exam:  The written candidacy exam format is a research proposal patterned in the format of an R01 NIH grant proposal. The exam is understood to be an expression of each student’s independent ability to formulate an experimental approach and adequately express it on paper. The exam is given at the end of the fourth academic semester and is graded as pass/fail by a committee consisting of three Graduate School faculty members. Students have 8 weeks to complete the written portion.

Oral Examination:  The oral candidacy exam is given as soon as possible but not later than 3 months after receiving notification of passage of the written exam. The oral exam centers on the topic of the written prelim as well as basic concepts in oral biology and in your chosen concentration. The oral exam committee consists of the 3 written examiners plus 2 additional members.

Dissertation

Dissertation Research: Students begin intensive research on a dissertation topic in the 3rd year. The dissertation committee must consist of at least five persons: the dissertation advisor and at least 4 members of the Graduate faculty, 2 of which must have a primary appointment with the Oral Biology Curriculum.

Publication Requirement:  Before graduation, students must have carried out sufficient research for at least two papers (one must be a first-author publication) in a high-quality refereed journal, either published or submitted for publication.