By LAURIE KAISER
Published November 7, 2023
Patricia Diaz, SUNY Empire Innovation Professor in the School of Dental Medicine and director of UB’s Microbiome Center, has been appointed the Sunstar Robert J. Genco Endowed Chair.
Dental school dean Marcelo Araujo officially named Diaz to the chair during the recent Buffalo Niagara Dental Meeting.
Robert Genco, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Oral Biology, Periodontics and Microbiology and founder of the Microbiome Center, was a prolific researcher who forged a 40-year collaboration between Sunstar, an international oral health care company, and UB. He passed away in March 2019.
In 2020, Sunstar donated $1 million to establish a new endowed fund to honor Genco. The five-year position recognizes and supports UB faculty who are not only gifted teachers but also scholars, researchers and applied learning innovators who facilitate medical and dental collaboration in oral biology and periodontal medicine in the dental school. The holder of the chair will serve as a liaison between UB and Sunstar to continue Genco’s research legacy.
Diaz is the first faculty member to be appointed to the chair.
“Our longstanding relationship with the Sunstar Foundation and Sunstar’s founding family will continue under the leadership of Dr. Diaz,” Araujo says. “I look forward to the continued growth in important periodontal research under Dr Diaz’s guidance.”
Hiroo Kaneda, CEO of Sunstar and a longtime friend of Genco, says the endowed chair “honors the work and legacy of Dr. Genco at UB’s School of Dental Medicine, our long-standing relationship during his 44 years at the university and his key role in identifying the connection between periodontal disease and general health.
“Sunstar has been working to improve oral health worldwide for over 35 years, as well as funding further research and promoting awareness of the mouth-body connection,” Kaneda adds. “I know with Professor Diaz as the new chair, she will strive to continue Dr. Genco’s legacy and build on his groundbreaking research.”
Genco’s lab was responsible for numerous findings, including identification of bacteria responsible for gum disease and determining that smoking, osteoporosis and stress are risk factors for periodontal infections. Genco’s research on gum disease led to the commercialization of 10 oral health care products. The formation of the GUM brand of oral health products in 1989 was largely influenced by Genco’s partnership with the Sunstar Group.
“I am extremely humbled to be named to the endowed chair in honor of Dr. Genco,” says Diaz, who came to UB in 2020 from the University of Connecticut, where she served as associate professor of oral health and diagnostic sciences. “I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Genco at a conference prior to my coming to UB. He was a pioneer who explored the relationship between periodontal disease and systemic disease. I plan to continue in his footsteps over the coming years.”
Diaz is a leader in the study of microbiomes, which are the communities of microorganisms that live on and in human and animal hosts. She aims to understand community dynamics and develop tools to manipulate the microbiome to stop development of periodontal disease.
In just a few years at UB, Diaz has amassed significant accomplishments. She served as co-principal investigator last fall for two projects funded by $7.8 million in grants from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. In conjunction with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, she has been exploring the influence of the oral microbiome on both the risk of developing oral thrush during cancer treatment and the risk of infection with cancer-linked human papillomavirus (HPV) among people with HIV.
In May, she published findings in JDR Clinical and Translational Research from a study that she and other UB researchers conducted on the benefits of an antimicrobial mouth rinse for individuals with Type 2 diabetes being treated for periodontitis.
And earlier this fall, Diaz received a prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant designed to develop a training program at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus in Jamaica. It is aimed at studying the determinants of periodontitis and associated non-communicable chronic diseases in the Caribbean.