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Oral Biology PhD Program

Overview: Curriculum Course Requirements

The curriculum in Oral Biology meets its educational goals through:

The curriculum in Oral Biology is designed to involve students early in research through lab rotations in the first year, to compress required core courses into the first year, and to promote achievement of Ph.D. candidacy status by the end of the second year, with dissertation research involvement in second year forward. The Oral Biology Ph.D. program is a structured program which includes a set of core courses for every student in the program, a set of concentration-specific requirements for students who declare their research area to be in either Host-Pathogen Interactions, Pain Neurobiology, or Skeletal Biology and Extracellular Matrices, and a number of elective courses individually recommended to help each student gain knowledge in their particular area of scientific concentration. The course load prior to the preliminary written and oral examinations is a minimum of 40 hours over four semesters. The average course load each of the first four semesters is 10 to 12 hours. The timeline of student activities during their matriculation in the Oral Biology program is shown in Appendix B-1.

Students spend their first two years with an emphasis on basic sciences courses (Principles of Oral Biology, Cell Biology, Molecular Genetics, Microbiology, and Biochemistry) followed by examining specific biological applications. Every student is expected to have a basic understanding of the principles of biochemistry, genetics, and cell biology. The program director - after evaluation of the student's transcripts, background, experience, and degrees - determines if a student has sufficient educational background in these three major areas of biology. Students judged deficient in one or more of these areas are required to take graduate level courses in this area(s). Existing courses on campus (CHEM 430, BIOC 505 or CBIO 433/644) that meet our minimum competency requirements for biochemistry, genetics, and cell biology, respectively are a tremendous benefit to the Oral Biology curriculum.

The curriculum in Oral Biology has three levels of requirements: core requirements for all students in the curriculum, concentration-specific requirements depending on which concentration a student chooses within the curriculum, and electives taken to enhance the student's educational experience in their chosen area of study within their concentration.

Oral Biology Concentration Curricular Requirements

The UNC Oral Biology Ph.D. Program has three primary concentrations:

1) Concentration in Host-Pathogen Interactions is designed to give a student an understanding of infectious diseases and host response. Molecular approaches for disease analysis and the complexity of host response require advanced training in the disciplines of Microbiology, Immunology, Cell Biology, Molecular Genetics, and Biochemistry. The discipline of Host-Pathogen Interactions applies and extends the concepts of these disciplines to understanding the growth and development and pathologies associated with infectious disease and host response. This concentration is associated with the Center for Oral and Systemic Diseases at the UNC School of Dentistry.

The didactic curriculum requirements for students in the Host-Pathogenesis concentration includes the Oral Biology core curriculum, as well as the advanced course in Inflammation (OBIO761), and an elective in Immunology (MICRO 614), Virology (MICRO630) or Microbial Pathogenesis (MICRO635) depending on their area of interest within the field. Students are also required to participate in OBIO770 (Selected Topics in Oral Biology) every semester they are students in the Host-Pathogen Interactions concentration.

2) Concentration in Pain Neurobiology is directed toward sensory interactions involved in pain perception and transmission. The primary focus of this discipline is to provide training in areas thematically related to orofacial and clinical orofacial pain and neurosensory disorders. This is a field of very high interest and is an area of current emphasis for NIDCR and many other institutes. We expect the number of students enrolled in this concentration to expand over the next several years. A multidisciplinary team of clinical and basic neurobiologists who have an interest in sensory processing and sensory disorders, along with investigators with training in molecular neurobiology, pharmacology, physiology, biochemistry, and cell biology serve as training faculty. A strong foundation in neuroscience as well as physiology is required for students in this concentration. The Pain Neurobiology Concentration is associated with the Regional Center for Neurosensory Disorders at the UNC School of Dentistry. The didactic curriculum requirement for students in the Pain Neurobiology concentration includes the Oral Biology core curriculum and at least two electives in cellular and molecular neurobiology given by faculty in the Neurobiology Curriculum at UNC-CH.

3) Concentration in Skeletal Biology and Extracellular Matrices (SBEM) offers a broad-based discipline in Craniofacial and Skeletal Growth and Development. Faculty in this concentration have research programs in the genetic basis of craniofacial abnormalities, bone and mineral metabolism, matrix mineralization, aging, skeletal development, and wound healing and repair/regeneration. This concentration emphasizes the regulatory functions of several key extracellular matrix molecules in bone/tooth formation and development as well as in wound healing and repair. It provides education in the basic structures and functions of extracellular matrix molecules, cell-matrix interactions, mineralized tissue formation, molecular basis for connective tissue disorders and tissue engineering. The didactic curriculum for students in the Skeletal Biology and Extracellular Matrices concentration includes the Oral Biology core curriculum, Macromolecular Structure and Metabolism (CHEM 431), and electives including Molecular Control of Bone Mass (OBIO 741), directed by SBEM faculty in the curriculum in Oral Biology.

These three concentration areas represent the core concepts for study at advanced levels in the discipline of oral biology. Expertise and authority in these particular concepts are well-represented within the educational and research qualifications of program faculty. Curricular requirements include the common Oral Biology core requirements for all students as well as those of the specific concentration. In addition, a student's individual research interests as well as prior qualifications such as D.D.S./D.M.D. or M.D. will impact individual course requirements.

The director of the concentration area selected by the student advises the student on courses to take, unless the student has not yet chosen an area of concentration, in which case the program director serves as the student's academic advisor. An individual student's curriculum includes advanced elective courses offered through the curriculum in Oral Biology and other graduate areas.