Research

Cutting-Edge Science in the Spirit of Service.

Dental research with device

The School of Dentistry is nationally recognized for its academic and clinical excellence. Scholarly activity is an integral component of the mission of the School of Dentistry and Creighton University, and we design all of our research initiatives with the goal of better patient care. Extramural research funding totals nearly $1.5 million for 2016-2017.

By conducting research focused on enhancing teaching, bettering society, and discovering new knowledge, the School of Dentistry has built a national and international reputation. Many of our faculty have secured extramural funding from public and privates sources to include the National Institutes of Health, the dental industry and foundations. The National Institute of Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) recognizes Creighton as being in the 30th percentile of the nation’s dental schools for research funding, which demonstrates excellence and leadership in dental research. 

Faculty-driven research at the School of Dentistry ranges from Basic Sciences to clinical investigations, including a variety of materials and techniques with translational potential into clinical applications to provide better care to our patients; this is science that serves.

Student Research Opportunities

We strive to enhance student learning opportunities through the discovery of new knowledge. Under the mentorship of our faculty, students have been involved in a variety of different projects and directly contribute to the dissemination of new knowledge.

  • Students complete a research training course, ‘Conduct of Research’, during their first semester of dental school. Completion of this course allows them to experience scientific inquiry in all its phases.
  • All of our first-year students participate in group research projects, which they present to the School of Dentistry’s faculty and alumni.
  • Our students have the opportunity to collaborate with both basic science and clinical faculty members in conducting research. Students directly contribute to the production of peer-reviewed scientific publications as well as public presentation of research findings. In the past, our students have addressed audiences as distinguished as the American Association for Dental Research and the International Association for Dental Research.
  • Pursing such opportunities enhances the applications of our students to postdoctoral programs in the dental specialties.

Current Projects and Researchers

The School of Dentistry is well recognized in the research community for its excellence in the area of dental materials research. This component of the research enterprise includes clinical trials on a variety of material and technique as well as laboratory investigations and collaborations with researchers throughout Creighton’s campus and beyond. These collaborations have been primarily with faculty and students in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physics.

Wayne W. Barkmeier, DDS, M.S.

Wayne W. Barkmeier, DDS, M.S.
Adjunct Professor and Dean Emeritus

Dr. Barkmeier is extensively involved in biomaterials research and has conducted numerous clinical and laboratory evaluations on dental restorative materials. He has authored over 160 articles in professional journals and has lectured throughout the world on dental materials and restorative procedures. The focus of his research interest is in the areas of adhesive dentistry and wear characteristics of resin composites and resin cements. Current investigations involve shear bond strength and shear fatigue limit testing of current generation adhesive systems.  These investigations also evaluate the surface morphological changes of mineralized tooth structures treated with the various adhesive bonding agents using scanning electron microscopy and non-contact profilometry.  Wear studies have included simulated localized and generalized wear.

Current collaborations are with the Department of Physics in the area of atomic force microscopy.

Douglas K. Benn, M.Phil, DDS, Ph.D.,

Douglas K. Benn BDS, M.Phil, DDS, Ph.D., Diplomate in Dental Radiology
Professor of Diagnostic Sciences and Director of Radiology

Dr. Benn is currently funded by two grants, NIH STTR Phase II and NE Dept. of Economic Development, to develop a new radiographic test for caries cavitation of interproximal surfaces of posterior teeth. Preliminary human clinical testing has been performed in a previous NIH STTR Phase I grant and with the current grants. The diagnostic device is being manufactured for a larger clinical trial due to start October 2015 and partners are now being sought for commercialization and sale of the test devices.

Roselyn Cerutis, Ph.D.

Roselyn Cerutis, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Oral Biology

Dr. Cerutis’ laboratory works collaboratively with dentists in the Department of Periodontics and the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. The team’s long-term goal is to understand the biology of lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) in periodontal disease. LPA is a pleiotropic small lipid that plays key roles in homeostasis and inflammation, and in many conditions where inflammation is the underlying process—such as atherosclerosis, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. However, its role in periodontal disease is only now being determined. Over the years, many junior and senior dental students have contributed to the productivity of our laboratory research.

Mark A. Latta, DMD, M.S., and Stephen Gross, Ph.D.

Stephen M. Gross, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry
Mark A. Latta, DMD, M.S.
Dean and Professor of General Dentistry

Dr. Gross and Dr. Latta have focused their research interests on the development of new dental materials that improve oral health care.

Caries initiation at the interface of dental materials and mineralized tooth structure continues to be a significant issue. Their research group mainly focuses on encapsulating bioactive therapeutic agents that can be incorporated into dental products that combat recurrent decay. Encapsulation of aqueous solutions of salts containing fluoride, calcium and phosphate ions provide a method for delivering remineralizing ions in their bioactive form. These microcapsules, when formulated into a dental material, allows for ion release by passive diffusion for an extended period of time in the proximity of the material-enamel interface.

Studies focus on ion release rates, enamel fluoride uptake and the effect of microcapsule inclusion on material properties.

Martha E. Nunn, DDS, M.S., Ph.D.

Martha E. Nunn, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D.
Professor, Periodontics

Martha E. Nunn, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D. is a dentist and biostatistician with a variety of research interests.  In the area of biostatistics, Dr. Nunn has worked with collaborators at San Diego State University and the University of Alabama, Birmingham, in the development of multivariate survival trees for applications in dental research, particularly the development of dental prognosis and understanding risk factors for restoration failure.  She also is interested in extending various biostatistical techniques to the multivariate setting to allow for analysis of correlated outcomes, such as tooth loss, restoration failure, implant failure and other events that occur multiply within a patient so that outcomes are not independent, which is a necessary condition for traditional statistical techniques to be used.

In dentistry, Dr. Nunn has been involved in research in almost every dental specialty with most of her research focused in periodontology and oral health disparities in children. In periodontology, Dr. Nunn has been involved in multiple periodontal clinical trials to test various bio-engineered materials for gingival grafts, minimally invasive surgical techniques, and risk factors for implant failure. She has also been involved in oral health disparities research to reduce caries in disparate populations of children, particularly pre-school children. She has received NIH funding for genetic testing related to periodontitis, development of multivariate survival trees and application to the VA Dental Longitudinal Study (a 30-year closed-panel longitudinal database), extension of Bayesian survival trees to the multivariate setting and application of survival trees, random forests, and Bayesian survival trees to the AxiUm database at Creighton University School of Dentistry to develop evidence-based criteria for assignment of dental prognosis based on tooth loss. She served as director of the biometry core for the Northeast Center for Research to Evaluate and Eliminate Dental Disparities (CREEDD) at Boston University between 2001 and 2009 and continued to serve as a biostatistical consultant from 2009 until 2015 after joining the faculty of Creighton University School of Dentistry.

Dr. Nunn has also utilized multivariate survival analysis and multivariate survival trees in other areas of dental research, including assessing risk to adjacent second molars associated with asymptomatic third molars and assessing risk of smoking associated with endodontic involvement and endodontic failure. Currently, Dr. Nunn is engaged in developing guidelines for implant prognosis.

Dr. Nunn is also interested in nutritional research applied to dental caries and childhood obesity. Recently, she has been working to develop nutritional guidelines for pre-school children to simultaneously reduce early childhood caries and childhood obesity.

Sonia Rocha-Sanchez, Ph.D.

Sonia Rocha-Sanchez, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Human Physiology and Biomedical Sciences of Oral Biology
Assistant Dean of Research

Dr. Rocha-Sanchez leads an active research program mentoring junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students in a variety of research projects. Current projects include auditory and oral tissue regeneration, caries research and oral inflammation.

Her lab’s past and current research has been funded by several federally and privately funded grants. Her current research projects involves the development of an inducible Dominant-Negative Retinoblastoma 1 (Rb1) mouse model, which offers potential research application on a broad variety of research areas.

Dr. Rocha-Sanchez is active in translational research as well, discovering ways to develop innovative products derived from her findings. In fact, she founded and serves as vice president of F&S Medical Solutions LLC, a company focused on research and development of medical devices and therapeutic interventions.

Michael D. Weston, M.A., Ph.D.

Michael D. Weston, M.A., PhD
Assistant Professor of Oral Biology

Dr. Weston currently has research support from the Nebraska Tobacco Settlement Biomedical Research Development New Initiative Grant (LB692). The spontaneity of cochlear sensory hair cell (HC) regeneration has been lost in mammalian species which is why human hearing loss is irreversible following HC death. The project focuses on learning the role of miRNAs and their therapeutic potential in regenerating mammalian hair cells in the cochlea using mouse models to reprogram cell fates in the inner ear. The current objective to generate direct evidence that miRNA directed gene regulation promotes postnatal conversion of non-sensory cells into sensory cells.

The study should provide the hearing research field with a better understanding of the biological relevance of miRNAs in regenerating mammalian hair cells. Moreover, it will add novel and medically relevant mechanistic insights in the control of gene expression by miRNAs, which may lead to novel ways of thinking about how, when, and where to employ potential therapeutic RNAs to test their efficacy in treating hearing loss disease. 

Dr. Weston is also supported from the CURAS Faculty Research Fund.  Worldwide, 80% of adults have some degree of periodontal disease and 13% have chronic severe disease that includes permanent tooth loss.  The project focuses on studying periostin’s role in dental tissue homeostasis.  Periostin, abundant in the periodontal ligament (PDL) of humans and mice, is an extracellular protein that communicates dynamic changes in mechanical loading to influence cell-matrix interactions and cell function.  The award will provide funds to engage Creighton undergraduate students in tissue culture experiments to study cell signaling using fibroblasts isolated from the oral cavity of mice to better understand periodontal disease development and progression.

Current Partnerships

The Creighton University School of Dentistry has international research partnerships with Nihon University, Department of Operative Dentistry, in Tokyo, Japan and Shofu Corporation in Kyoto, Japan.  Two faculty members from the School of Dentistry at Nihon University School of Dentistry have completed a one-year research fellowships at Creighton and a third scholar is scheduled to start in July 2015.  An industrial scholar from the Department of Research and development at Shofu Corporation has also completed a one-year fellowship. 

These academic and industrial fellowships have resulted in several research abstracts being presented at national and international research meeting and publications in peer-reviewed journals. The Creighton University School of Dentistry plans to encourage more research collaborations at the international level.