USC University of Southern California

Areas of Emphasis

Addressing Society’s Needs

At the core of all of the research endeavors at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC are the goals of improving human health and meeting societal needs. With that in mind, groups of researchers have formed around critical fields of study. These areas of emphasis include:

Craniofacial Development

Malformations of the head, face or neck are involved in three fourths of all congenital birth defects in humans. The Ostrow School of Dentistry is at the forefront of biomedical research in this area through interdisciplinary and collaborative research by evolutionary and development biologists, human geneticists, computer modelers and tissue engineers.

Faculty Leaders: Malcolm Snead, Yang Chai, Michael Paine, Janet Moradian-Oldak, Margarita Zeichner-David, Songtao Shi, Anh Le, Wei Shi, Mark Urata, Yan Zhou, Matthew Lee, Stephen Yen, Tina Jaskoll, Michael Melnick, Pragna Patel, Harold Slavkin, Amy Merrill, Ruchi Bajpai.

Microbial Infections

Bacteria tend to form and thrive in communities known as biofilms — concentrated clusters of bacteria that attach to the surface and become embedded in a wide variety of polymeric matrix such as plaque on the surface of teeth. These biofilms are responsible for a wide variety of disease, not only in the oral cavity, but throughout the body. Ostrow School of Dentistry researchers are leading major investigations aimed at reducing these persistent infections through early diagnosis, new antibiotic delivery mechanisms and disrupting biofilm formation.

Faculty Leaders: Steven Goodman, Casey Chen, Homa Zadeh, Parish Sedghizadeh.

Tooth & Tissue Restoration

Few people go through life without losing a tooth or suffering trauma to the mouth and surrounding orofacial tissue. Researchers at the Ostrow School of Dentistry are creating new methods to repair and replace damaged tissue. Craniofacial development experts are investigating methods for regenerating teeth using the patient’s own stem cells, while others are looking at producing new tissue, such as enamel, through an understanding of the molecular mechanisms that lead to their creation .

Faculty Leaders: Songtao Shi, Anh Le, Malcolm Snead, Janet Moradian-Oldak, Magarita Zeichner-David, Michael Paine, Sandra Rich, George Cho, Winston Chee, Pascal Magne, Sillas Duarte, Jin-Ho Phark.

Saliva Diagnostics

While most are familiar with a blood test, a lesser-known and more accessible diagnostic fluid is saliva. Pioneering researchers at the Ostrow School of Dentistry are working to produce simple affordable saliva diagnostics that can be used to test for everything from drug usage to a person’s susceptibility to dental cavities.

Faculty Leaders: Paul Denny; Mahvash Navazesh, Jorgen Slots, Joyce Galligan.

Head & Neck Cancer

In the United States alone, 30,000 people will learn they have cancer of the mouth or neck and about half will not survive beyond five years. Surgery to remove the disease often is extensive, leaving the patient permanently disfigured. The key to survival and mitigating the cancer’s severity is early diagnosis. Researchers at the Ostrow School of Dentistry are investigating ways to improve diagnosis and understand the pathogenesis or factors contributing to its development. Others are examining ways to reduce tissue destruction during surgery and replace damaged or lost tissue.

Faculty Leaders: Anh Le, Songtao Shi, Parish Sedghizadeh, Satish Kumar.

Health Promotion & Disease Prevention

The Ostrow School of Dentistry has a long tradition of working with the communities in the Los Angeles area and the State of California. Our research faculty have identified such outreach activities as an opportunity to improve how we teach students to become life-long learning dentists and how we improve the delivery of oral health care to everyone, regardless of wealth, race, or ethnic status. Research projects are underway to understand how to encourage family unity and community commitment to learn good oral health practices, increase access to dental care, and improve how dentists communicate with their patients. Techniques being tested include patient and health care provider consultation, education, focus groups, and development of exciting new tools for personal skill development, building partnerships, and re-orienting health services. Faculty are using Internet-based learning tools based on sophisticated game theory to speed learning and improve memory, as well as bioengineered haptic devices to enable users to actually feel what is happening on the computer screen.

Faculty Leaders: Roseann Mulligan, Reyes Enciso, Jane Forrest, Glenn Clark, Robert Keim, Saravanan Ram, Anna Pattison, Donna Smith.