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  September 22, 2003

Researcher Wins Grant To Help Dentists
Bring Technology Into Practice

When the federal government wanted to know what could be done to move biotechnology more efficiently from scientists and inventors to dental practitioners, Dr. Edward Rossomando suggested biodontics.

An emerging dental specialty, biodontics applies molecular biology and biotechnology to clinical dentistry. The approach was conceptualize d, developed, and refined by Rossomando, a professor of biostructure and function at the UConn School of Dental Medicine.

More than a training program - although it includes a variety of training elements - biodontics encompasses research, academic initiatives, technology evaluation and transfer, and business know-how.

Officials at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, were intrigued with the idea and awarded Rossomando a two-year, $322,000 grant to bring the concept to reality through a program that introduces the entrepreneurial process to dental students, faculty, and practitioners.

The approach is based on the hypothesis - grounded in Rossomando's research - that if dentists are made familiar with what happens from the time an idea occurs to when it is patented, licensed, manufactured, tested, approved, and finally marketed, the acceptance of new products into dental practice will be enhanced.

The concept has attracted the attention of five of the most prestigious dental schools in the country: Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University, the University of California at San Francisco, and the University of Southern California have all signed up for seminars and training.

Rossomando began his research into what would become biodontics in 1998, when he was a visiting scholar at the National Institutes of Health. A scientist as well as a dentist, Rossomando's research originally focused on what could be done to improve the flow of technology from discoverers and manufacturers to clinicians.

Early indications suggested the regulatory process was unwieldy and needed reform. A model was developed and a conference of stakeholders - inventors, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, and end-users - held.

Further analysis revealed that manufacturers were sluggish in communicating their innovations and new products, and that also impeded the flow of technology.

But above all, the research found, it was the dental practitioner who was the critical determinant of success.

Two principles were at work:

The first was that practitioners used the products and technologies to which they were exposed in dental school and post-degree residencies.

The second was that any technology that would disrupt or interfere with established office routine was likely to be disregarded. In a busy office - particularly with solo practitioners - any interruption in treating patients was economically unacceptable.

Dentists believed they couldn't afford to stop treating patients to adopt new technologies or learn new procedures, not realizing that new products and technologies would allow them to treat larger numbers of patients more efficiently, if they just took the time to learn and incorporate these innovations into their practice.

"Technology is at work in all dental offices - from infection control to lasers in restorative dentistry and the use of computers for everything from imaging to record keeping," Rossomando says. "Most dentists realize that the introduction of new products and technologies into their practice is in the best interest of their patients, but existing office routines and habits can present obstacles to any change."

One solution, he figured, was to show practitioners how new technology would improve efficiency and delivery of care to their patients: and that led to biodontics.

To amplify biodontics and pursue further research on its practical aspects, including technology transfer and how office habits and practices affect the acceptance of new products, Rossomando established the Center for Research and Education in Technology Evaluation at the dental school. The center will promote education through its biodontics program, but also will conduct research in a planned "laboratory" modeled after a dental office.

The center has an advisory board of senior dental school administrators and faculty and a Board of Directors, chaired by Carl Bretko (UConn Class of '67), that comprises business people and entrepreneurs, dental faculty, scientists, researchers, and practitioners.

Dr. Hubert Benitez is assistant to the director, and Dr. Bernard Janicki is the center's principal advisor and consultant.

"Biodontics and CRETE serve to underscore the UConn dental school's commitment to translational research," says Dr. Peter J. Robinson, dean of the School of Dental Medicine. "Advances in molecular medicine and biotechnology will provide the discoveries to improve oral health; and biodontics will provide the theoretical as well as the practical framework to translate those discoveries into new technologies for the dental office. Teaching biodontics will shorten the period from concept to product."