This is an archived article.

August 17, 2006

Summer dental research institute a global draw for professionals seeking training

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Dr. Abdoul Aziz Yam, a pediatric dentist from the African nation of Senegal, wishes he’d heard about the UW’s Summer Institute in Clinical Dental Research Methods a lot sooner. Now 60 years old and approaching retirement, he says the knowledge he’s gained from this summer’s six-week immersive program has been invaluable.

“Every day we learn something new about how to improve research methods,” he said. Yam, who is chief of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Senegal and a former Fulbright Scholar, said he is amazed at how much he’s learned about research methods, applications, and study designs in such a short time.

“We’re learning how to do randomized clinical trials the right way,” he said.

For the past 15 years, the UW’s School of Dentistry has drawn dental school faculty

and other oral health professionals from around the globe to take part in the summer research training program. Courses include behavioral research in dentistry, biostatistics, clinical epidemiology/study design, case studies in data analysis, randomized clinical trials and a seminar on the grant review process.

This year’s class of 21 students brought together dental professionals from 11 countries and nine states across the United States. From Mauritius and Japan, to Slovenia, Germany, Iceland and Korea, this summer’s class resembled a United Nations gathering.

Yupin Songpaisan, a member of the dental school faculty at Thammasat University outside of Bangkok, Thailand, said she was so impressed with the UW Summer Institute that she wants to start a similar training program at her university. She is working with Dr. Timothy DeRouen, director of the Summer Institute and UW professor of biostatistics and dental public health sciences, to coordinate efforts between their schools.

“The institute is designed for dentists and other oral health professionals who may not have been adequately exposed to research methods during their clinical training,” DeRouen explained. “And the program attracts health care professionals, literally, from around the world.”

Half-way through the six-week program, the group gathered for a Saturday backyard barbeque DeRouen hosted at his Stretch Island waterfront home near Shelton. The theme was cuisine from around the world and the faculty “students” happily obliged with a global smorgasbord of homemade dishes.

Not all of the Summer Institute participants are dentists. Jeana Kimball, the sole Washington resident in this year’s class, is a dental hygienist and naturopathic physician finishing up a degree in public health, studying periodontal disease, and deciding what she’d like to do next.

“What’s so great about this program is you get an overarching glimpse into how to become a good research soldier,” Kimball said. “It really helps you shape research content.”

DeRouen, who is also executive associate dean for academic affairs and research in the UW School of Dentistry, has been directing the Summer Institute since its inception in 1992. During the past 15 summers under his leadership, the institute has hosted more than 300 dental school faculty from 29 states and 31 countries.

DeRouen’s own research includes work as principal investigator on a number of grants, most recently the Casa Pia Study of the Health Effects of Dental Amalgams in Children.

In this study, one of two published April 19, 2006, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, DeRouen tracked neurological development over seven years in 507 children, ages 8 to 10, in the Casa Pia school system in Lisbon, Portugal to determine if mercury fillings had any neurological effects.

Both the UW study led by DeRouen and a similar study conducted by the New England Research Institute, found no evidence of IQ or other neurological impairment caused by dental fillings made with mercury.

The studies, which began enrolling children in 1997 and ended in 2005, are the first to follow children from the time they received the fillings as part of a randomized clinical trial.

“We didn’t see any indications of harm to these kids,” DeRouen said, “and we tested them repeatedly over seven years. It’s the first bit of objective evidence on this topic other than heated opinion and observational studies.”

The Casa Pia study is just one example of the types of research methodologies and study designs explored during the six-week Summer Institute in Clinical Dental Research Methods.

“It’s all about enhancing the involvement of clinicians and clinical faculty in research,” DeRouen said.

“That’s been my vision for the institute from the beginning — to bring together dental clinician faculty from around the world to learn how to perform good clinical research.”