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An Honor for Distinguished Professor Emeritus George Stookey Among Highlights of Dental School's Research Day

Angela Bruzzaniti
Angela Bruzzaniti Judith Chin
Judith Chin View print-quality imageGeorge K. Stookey
George K. Stookey View print-quality image

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April 26, 2012

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In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Indiana University School of Dentistry’s annual Research Day, Distinguished Professor Emeritus George K. Stookey, PhD, the world-renowned IU researcher who created the event in 1993 was welcomed back to IUPUI as Research Day’s special guest of honor at the Campus Center on April 16.

John Williams Jr., DMD, dean of dentistry, surprised Dr. Stookey by presenting him with a proclamation declaring the event “George Stookey Research Day.” The Delta Dental Foundation also renamed the Research Day award it presents to a graduate dental student each year in honor of the researcher. The first recipient was Dr. Nawaf Labban, a PhD student in Dental Science.

The dental school’s former longtime associate dean for research and director of the Oral Health Research Institute, Dr. Stookey first established ties to the dental school in the 1950s during Dr. Joseph Muhler’s famous clinical trials in Bloomington, Ind., of Crest toothpaste, which contained the first successful stannous fluoride formula to protect against dental caries (tooth decay). Hoping to put his new IU bachelor’s degree in chemistry to use with a summer job before continuing his studies, 21-year-old Stookey was hired by Dr. Muhler to do fluoride analyses for a dollar an hour.

It turned out to be a brilliant move on Dr. Muhler’s part. Dr. Stookey earned two additional IU degrees while remaining an integral member of the legendary Crest research team. Like Dr. Muhler, over the years Dr. Stookey acquired his own international reputation as a pioneer in preventive dentistry research; he developed special expertise in such areas as identifying dental decay at its earliest stages, while there is time to halt the disease without the need for restorative measures, and perhaps ultimately to reverse the disease process.

In addition to his leadership in research, Dr. Stookey served the dental school in a number of other administrative positions over time, including a brief term as acting dean and finally as the school’s first executive associate dean. Indiana University bestowed the title of Distinguished Professor on Dr. Stookey in 1998, and after his retirement from IU in 2001 he became president and CEO of Therametric Technologies, Inc., a life sciences research company originally housed in IU’s Emerging Technologies Center and relocated to Noblesville, Ind., in 2010.

In his Research Day remarks Dr. Stookey took an audience of about 300 students, staff, and faculty on a journey through Indiana history, noting key moments and IU dental faculty that contributed to substantial improvements in oral health over the decades – not just for Hoosiers, but for the nation and the world.

Dr. Stookey’s talk was followed by a keynote presentation by Martha Somerman, DDS, PhD, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Dr. Somerman discussed the institute’s role in advancing oral health as well as specific research areas of strength she sees for the IU School of Dentistry. She was installed as NIDCR director in 2011, after having served since 2002 as dental dean at the University of Washington.

Altogether, 121 posters and clinical case reports were presented at Research Day on wide-ranging topics pertinent to the field of dentistry. Among the 22 persons honored for their work were two dental educators receiving awards from the IU School of Dentistry Alumni Association.

Pediatric Dentistry professor Judith Chin, DDS, received the Distinguished Teaching Award in part for her extensive efforts as one of the school’s leaders in service-learning education. She helped pioneer the school’s involvement in the American Dental Association Give Kids a Smile program, and in 2008 she worked with the administration to attain affiliate status for the school in the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation (NCOHF).

Since then the foundation has awarded her more than $368,000 in financial grants and donated dental supplies and equipment, which has been put to use in a wide variety of teaching settings locally, throughout the state, and abroad that bring students together with patients in need. The NCOHF named the IU dental school its Affiliate of the Year for 2012. Dr. Chin has also received funds from the IUPUI Center for Teaching and Learning that she used to bring a prototype of 3D dental haptic (virtual sense of touch) technology to the school.

Oral Biology professor Angela Bruzzaniti, PhD, received the Distinguished Research Award for her work in the field of bone biology. She is currently working on six research grants as either the principal investigator or a co-investigator. Her chief research interest is in the regulation of osteoclasts, the cells found in growing bone that resorb bony tissue.

In 2011, Dr. Bruzzaniti along with Melissa Kacena, PhD, of the IU medical school’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, were awarded a five-year grant of about $1.7 million from the NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. They are using the grant to study the process of bone formation and the complex series of signals involved in bone growth and bone loss – protein signals that have often been likened to “on” and “off” switches that regulate bone. The long-term goal of such research is to help in the development of treatment therapies for osteoporosis and other bone-loss diseases.