Published December 18, 2019
Robert J. Genco, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Oral Biology, Periodontics and Microbiology, has been posthumously named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).
The NAI fellows program recognizes academic inventors who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.
Genco is among 168 academic inventors in the 2019 class to be awarded the distinction. To date, NAI fellows hold more than 41,500 issued U.S. patents, which have generated more than 11,000 licensed technologies and companies, created more than 36 million jobs and generated more than $1.6 trillion in revenue.
Genco, who died unexpectedly on March 6, was a world-renowned researcher in oral science and a tireless advocate for interdisciplinary research and entrepreneurship.
“Dr. Genco was a legendary figure in dental research known throughout the world,” said Joseph J. Zambon, dean of the School of Dental Medicine. “He will be remembered for his towering intellect, for innovative research that transformed the scientific basis of dental practice, and building the connection between oral health and overall health. Most of all, for his exceptional humanity, which he generously shared with his many students and colleagues.”
Lauded by the Journal of Dental Research as the “father of oral science,” Genco was arguably the world’s leading periodontal researcher and a pioneer in advancing the study of how oral health impacts overall health.
An active researcher and thought leader at UB, Genco’s studies largely focused on understanding oral diseases. His lab was responsible for numerous scientific findings, including the identification of bacteria responsible for gum disease and the establishment of smoking, osteoporosis and stress as risk factors for periodontal infections. He also served as director of the UB Microbiome Center.
He and his colleagues were among the first to report a connection between gum disease and heart disease, stroke and several cancers, and led studies that linked periodontitis to diabetes and obesity — all of which were discoveries that have influenced decades of oral health care research and products.
While research was Genco’s first passion, guiding UB innovations toward commercialization was a close second. He continuously advocated for advancing fundamental findings toward market-ready products for the public.
Genco served as vice provost of the UB Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR) from 2002-16, where he successfully commercialized both his own discoveries and those of other UB faculty and students.
Under Genco’s leadership, STOR helped launch more than 80 businesses in Western New York and processed more than 1,300 new technology disclosures, of which nearly 200 resulted in licenses for companies.
His research on gum disease led to the commercialization of 10 oral health care products, ranging from toothpastes to soy calcium tablets that help ward off osteoporosis. The formation of the popular GUM brand of oral health products in 1989 was largely influenced by a partnership between Genco and the Sunstar Group.
Genco, a native of Silver Creek, New York, joined UB as a faculty member in 1968. During his 51 years at the university, he published more than 400 scientific articles, published or edited nearly 30 books and book chapters, served in editorial positions for nearly a dozen scientific journals, held nearly a dozen patents, and received numerous multimillion-dollar grants as the principal investigator on research projects.
He received numerous awards throughout his career, including the American Dental Association (ADA) Gold Medal for Excellence in Research, the ADA Award for Clinical Research, the SUNY Research Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award and the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) Distinguished Scientist Award.
Genco received a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from the University of Pennsylvania, a doctorate in dental surgery from UB, and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Canisius College.
This is a well-deserved and great honor for a man with immeasurable scientific acumen and warmth of heart and spirit. Dean Zambon hit the mark. Rest peacefully, Bob.