Eastman Institute Ushers in New Era of Research

Sep. 16, 2022

Thomas Diekwisch, D.M.D., Ph.D., Ph.D., has been named the founding chair of the Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences, part of Eastman Institute for Oral Health at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Portrait of Dr. Diekwisch
Dr. Thomas Diekwisch, Chair, Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences

Dr. Diekwisch joins EIOH from Texas A&M University’s College of Dentistry, where he has served as director for the Center for Craniofacial Research and Diagnosis and Head of the Department of Periodontics. In 2017, he was appointed the first Bernhard Gottlieb Endowed Chair in Craniofacial Research. 

Dr. Diekwisch, the principal investigator of three federally funded grants totaling $4.7 million, will lead the development of high quality, strategic and innovative oral health related research and education in the newly established Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences, which replaces the Center for Oral Biology. He will play an integral role in supporting graduate and post graduate education, and develop a Ph.D. track in oral biology.

The widely published and cited Diekwisch, who has secured $13.3 million in grants over the last 20 years, becomes the Margaret and Cy Welcher Professor in Dental Research, and will work closely with EIOH and URMC leadership and faculty to ensure that cross disciplinary productive collaboration is evidenced and strengthened in basic and translational research.

“This is an exciting new era for oral biology research at the university,” said Eli Eliav, D.M.D., Ph.D., EIOH professor and director. “With his leadership skills and significant accomplishments in program development and recruitment, I’m

Portrait of Dr. Eliav
Dr. Eli Eliav, EIOH Professor & Director

confident in his ability to direct our research priorities and strengthen collaborations throughout the medical center and university.”

Dr. Diekwisch’s first faculty recruit is Xianghong Luan, M.D., a professor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry since 2019. Dr. Luan's postdoctoral training at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio involved the study of dental tissues, cells, and unique dental genes. Her early work in this area focused on the genes and proteins of the dental pulp and their role in dentin formation. Dr. Luan is the Principal Investigator of two federally funded grants totaling $3.8 million.  Her grants focus on microRNAs and small molecule microenvironment design for the regeneration of periodontal and craniofacial tissues.    

“Trained as a medical doctor, Dr. Luan has a keen interest in clinical problems, is an outstanding scientist and collaborator and is a superb mentor to students and faculty alike,”

portrait of Dr. Luan
Dr. Xianghong Luan

said Dr. Diekwisch. “I am very grateful that she has decided to join me at EIOH.”

“Tom is the right person at the right time and we’re delighted he’s joining URMC,” said Mark Taubman, M.D., CEO of URMC and dean of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “Building on EIOH’s strong foundation coupled with his exceptional success in grant funding, we have full confidence in Tom’s leadership to build the program and develop the next generation of oral biologists.”

The Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences faculty conduct basic and applied research and are a part of interdisciplinary research teams. These teams integrate and blend aspects of biochemistry, developmental biology, genetics, immunology, microbiology, physiology, pharmacology, dentistry, medicine, dermatology and structural biology to explore important problems of craniofacial, dental and oral biology.

“Tom has an infectious energy and enthusiasm for science, and an unusually broad-ranging and curious mind,” added Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., interim vice president for Research, University of Rochester and vice dean for Research at the UR School of Medicine and Dentistry. “To my knowledge, he is the only member of our faculty to hold a doctorate in Dental Medicine as well as two PhDs, and to have published a peer-reviewed manuscript on tooth eruption in a late Cretaceous Mosasaur, which is apparently an enormous aquatic reptile that became extinct more than 60 million years ago.” 

Dr. Dewhurst looking through shelves in lab
Dr. Stephen Dewhurst, Interim Vice President for Research

Dr. Diekwisch found the University of Rochester particularly attractive because of its long history of collaborative science between the medical and the dental clinical faculty and because of its overall research excellence. 

“I especially appreciate the shared focus on training the next generation of clinician-scientists and leaders in dental research and education among Drs. Eliav, Taubman and Dewhurst,” Dr. Diekwisch said. “I’m looking forward to working with a group of faculty and scientists all dedicated to studying the interface between oral-craniofacial biology, medical, and dental-clinical sciences. This focus has been the very reason for me to move to the United States more than 30 years ago, and it has remained the focus of my work throughout my career.”

Dr. Diekwisch received a Ph.D. in Anatomy from the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Science from the Institute for Philosophy and a D.M.D. from the School of Dentistry at Philipps-University of Marburg, Germany. Prior to his return to Texas, he served as director of the Brodie Laboratory for Craniofacial Genetics and the Allan G. Brodie Endowed Chair at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry and later was appointed professor and Head of the Department of Oral Biology at the UIC College of Dentistry.

Dr. Diekwisch’s other research interests include periodontics, stem cells and tissue engineering, chromatin, epigenetics, and microRNAs, craniofacial development, enamel formation and evolution and history of science.