Published December 10, 2021
Stefan Ruhl, an internationally renowned expert on saliva, oral bacteria and the oral microbiome, will serve as interim dean of the School of Dental Medicine, effective Jan. 6.
The announcement was made yesterday in a university-wide memo from A. Scott Weber, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, and Allison Brashear, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Ruhl succeeds Joseph Zambon, who is retiring after 39 years of service to UB.
“We are grateful to Dr. Ruhl for his leadership and service during this transitional period, during which time we will launch an international search for the next dean of the School of Dental Medicine,” Weber and Brashear said in the memo.
“I am humbled by the amount of support I received from colleagues at our school, and am incredibly excited for the opportunity that lies ahead for all of us,” Ruhl said. “I see great potential for joining forces with the medical school and the other health professions at UB for the benefit of science, student education and serving the underserved in the Buffalo and Western New York area.”
A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ruhl is a professor and associate chair of the Department of Oral Biology.
A highly prolific scholar, his research seeks to unravel the roles that saliva and microorganisms play in health, including in adhesion to the teeth and surfaces of the mouth, defense against pathogens and colonization of the oral cavity.
Ruhl investigates the molecular mechanisms of microbial binding to glycans, a common but little understood class of biomolecules that help bacteria attach to host surfaces, including those in the mouth. The goal of his lab is to harness tools that ultimately help scientists examine how the microorganisms bind to glycans in the mouth to form oral biofilms — more commonly known as dental plaque — increasing the risk for cavities and periodontal disease.
He was among the first researchers to catalogue the human salivary proteome, which is the entirety of proteins present in saliva and in salivary gland ductal secretions. Ruhl has led or participated in recent studies that have identified how saliva is made, tracing each salivary protein back to its source. He helped curate the Human Salivary Proteome Wiki, the first public platform that catalogs data on each of the thousands of proteins contained in saliva. His work also led to the identification of a starch-digesting enzyme called amylase in the saliva of dogs and various other mammals for the first time.
Ruhl has explored saliva to understand the factors that helped shape human evolution and, in particular, the evolution of the human mouth environment. Together with his co-workers, he found genetic evidence in saliva that humans may have mated with a ghost species of archaic humans, and discovered that 2 million years of eating meat and cooked food has led humans to develop a saliva that is now starkly different from that of chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest genetic relatives.
Ruhl joined the UB faculty in 2007 from the University of Regensburg, Germany, where he was a professor of operative dentistry and periodontology, and actively participated in clinical and academic student teaching and patient treatment.
“My colleagues here at UB know me primarily as a scientist, but many don’t know that I worked in private dental practice for two years and was active for more than 12 years in academic clinical dentistry. I know our profession from both sides of the spectrum, and that is why I believe I will be able to bridge these two domains at our school,” Ruhl said.
In addition to his current associate chair role, Ruhl is director of the Advanced Training in Oral Biology program, and previously served as acting chair of the Department of Oral Biology from 2019-20.
He is the former president of the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) Salivary Research Group. The IADR recognized Ruhl with the Distinguished Scientist Award in Salivary Research in 2020 and the Salivary Researcher of the Year Award in 2014. He also serves as editor-in-chief of Clinical Oral Investigations, associate editor of JADA Foundational Science, and an editorial board member of the Journal of Dental Research.
He holds a doctor of dental surgery degree and a doctoral degree in immunology from the Georg-August University of Göttingen.