Cutler Laying Groundwork to Enhance Student, Faculty Research
Dr. Christopher Cutler has had his eye on research since undergraduate school.
“I earned my bachelor’s degree in microbiology, and even after I got my dental degree, I always gravitated back to the laboratory,” says Cutler, Chairman of the College of Dental Medicine Department of Periodontics and the college’s newly named Associate Dean for Research.
Cutler, who has both a dental degree and PhD in experimental pathology, considers his current position the perfect culmination of his aspirations. “I’m very excited about all the opportunities at GRU,” says Cutler, who served on the Stony Brook University faculty before joining GRU four years ago.
“Dr. Cutler is a leader in research and education and a valued adviser to our students. As a mentor, he takes particular pride in his track record of inspiring students to pursue careers in dental academics and research. This is evident by the number of former students who are now full-time faculty at dental schools nationally and internationally.”
–DEAN CAROL LEFEBVRE
He has hit the ground running, already overseeing the reinvigoration of a College of Dental Medicine student research group; the opening of a research office on the fifth floor of the dental building, staffed by Marlena Smith, Research Operations Coordinator; and the recruitment of a biostatistician to support research efforts. The biostatistician, Wonsook Yoo, will supplement the efforts of Stephen Looney, Professor of Biostatistics, and will be housed primarily in the Institute of Public and Preventive Health.
“I hope to improve the outcomes for faculty and students in their research efforts, primarily by increasing and improving the research infrastructure and the support services available to faculty, students, and residents,” Cutler says. “We want to increase the number of grants submitted, grants funded, and papers submitted and accepted. We also aim to increase overall student research.”
An important part of this initiative is the introduction of a Clinical Research Faculty Development Program, in which Dr. Cristiano Susin and Angela Steen will guide interested junior faculty through a yearlong immersion in research skills. “Many of our faculty come to us with really strong clinical credentials but not a lot of experience conducting clinical research,” Cutler says. “We are helping them understand how the process works.”
As Cutler oversees these efforts, he will also continue his own studies, including the development of new diagnostic technology for periodontal disease (a collaboration with the Georgia Institute of Technology) and National Institutes of Health-funded study into the role of dendritic cells and T cells in periodontal disease. The research, which has been featured in the Journal of Immunology, builds on the finding that “periodontal disease is more than just an inflammatory disease,” Cutler says. “It’s caused by a disruption in immune homeostasis that seems to be caused by one of the bacteria that infects the oral mucosa. The bacteria invade dendritic cells, seemingly causing defects in the cells’ ability to function in alerting the immune system.”
His understanding of the process could lead both to prevention and treatment that can actually reverse the damage. Such advances will be a boon not only to oral health, but to overall health, Cutler stresses. “Some effects of periodontal disease are systemic,” he says. “We find these bacteria in the placenta of pregnant women, in the brain, in the atherosclerotic plaques of patients with cardiovascular disease . . . How do they get from point A to point B? We think they may be carried by these immune cells.”
Cutler also is excited about related findings in the field. “Many researchers are trying to tease out the genetic component to the disease,” he says. “There have been some efforts to look at defects in the interleukin 1 beta gene. The host’s genes definitely determine how you react to the bacterial plaque that lines the gums. Such people are very reactive and even with ideal oral hygiene will get the disease. Others are highly resistant.”
Of course, lifestyle and environmental factors are highly significant as well, he says. For instance, “smokers get the disease earlier and more severely than nonsmokers. And patients with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes have much more severe disease, and at an earlier age, than average.”
His research, and projects like it, should address all these issues, and many more, improving periodontal health while helping people retain their teeth throughout their lives — a significant factor in overall health and quality of life.
Cutler applauds Dean Carol Lefebvre’s commitment to advancing research in the college, a commitment that has laid the groundwork for the existing initiatives and many more to follow. Says Cutler, “She’s been extremely supportive in all my efforts.”
Lefebvre says she is privileged to support the efforts of Cutler, who has served as Interim Associate Dean for Research since July 2013. “Dr. Cutler is a leader in research and education and a valued adviser to our students,” she says. “As a mentor, he takes particular pride in his track record of inspiring students to pursue careers in dental academics and research. This is evident by the number of former students who are now full-time faculty at dental schools nationally and internationally.”
Cutler at a Glance
Family: Wife Joan (a retired registered nurse), two children
Education: DDS degree and PhD in Experimental Pathology, Emory University; postdoctoral fellowship in anaerobic microbiology, U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit #3 in Cairo, Egypt; postdoctoral training in dendritic cell biology, Baylor Institute for Immunology Research Professional background: Cutler taught periodontics at the University of Texas-Houston, Baylor University-Texas A&M before joining Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine as Associate Dean for Research. He joined the GRU faculty in 2011.
Awards: • 1987 National Research Service Award from the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research • 1989 Balint Orban Award from the American Academy of Periodontology • 1990 Edward Hatton Award from the American Association of Dental Research n 1999 inaugural Clinical Sciences Research Award from the International Academy of Periodontology • 2008 Bernard S. Moskow International Lecturer in Periodontology, Columbia University • 2015-16 American Dental Education Association Leadership Institute Fellow • Inaugural ADEA/ADEAGies Foundation Drs. Connie L. and Richard R. Drisko Scholarship