Degree Programs

Program in Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine (BSDM) at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine

The Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine (BSDM) Program, leading to the PhD degree, is located at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and is offered through the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University. BSDM was established in 2001 and is one of the programs of Harvard Integrated Life Sciences (HILS).

The BSDM program combines faculty from the Department of Developmental Biology and other Harvard School of Dental Medicine departments with faculty from basic science departments at Harvard Medical School, and faculty from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge.

The BSDM program offers advanced study in the molecular, supramolecular, cellular, and supracellular processes that provide the intellectual basis for dental medicine. The program offers training of research scientists in the following areas of research: neurobiology, bone biology, tooth development, stem cell biology, oral microbiology, autoimmunity, genetics related to craniofacial development, tumor biology, pain research, inflammation, and of course developmental biology.

Since its inception in 2001, the goals of the BSDM program have been to: (a) connect research activities and research training in the Harvard School of Dental Medicine with scientific pursuits of universities and academic health centers locally, nationally and internationally; (b) train individuals with the qualifications needed to fill faculty positions in US Dental Schools; (c) provide individuals with a background or interests in dentistry the rigorous, flexible and multidisciplinary training needed to effectively compete for research funding; (d) add a rigorous PhD training program to the list of such programs at dental schools to help expand the research required to further the national craniofacial/oral health research agenda; (e) to develop a program of multi- and interdisciplinary research training enabling graduates to effectively pursue substantial and exciting scientific opportunities.

The flexible, individualized program of courses taken by the BSDM students is ideal in light of the multi- and interdisciplinary training goal of the program. Students are required to take courses that are also taken by PhD students from other HILS programs and by dental specialty residents who are doing research in fulfillment of requirements for MMSc and DMSc degrees, which increases contacts and exchange of information among students working in a broad range of research areas.


Applicants to this program should be interested in pursuing a career in basic or patient-oriented science in the areas of skeletal biology, cell biology and development, immunology, or microbiology leading to a PhD degree. Eligible applicants will be individuals with a doctoral degree in dentistry (DMD, DDS), a medical doctoral degree (MD), or a student already accepted into the DMD program at Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

Applicants for admission should have an undergraduate record of introductory courses in calculus, physics, biology, and chemistry, both physical and organic, and significant laboratory research experience. Strong consideration is given to letters of recommendation, particularly from individuals who have firsthand knowledge of the applicant’s research experience.

Scores from the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) should be submitted (General); the GRE subject test is optional in the subject of your choice.

Applicants whose native language is not English and who have not received a degree from an English language institution must score at least 100 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

The BSDM Admissions Committee bases decisions regarding admission on a balanced discussion of undergraduate performance/GPA, GRE scores, professional school transcripts (if applicable), TOEFL, letters of recommendation and essay/career goals.

Online submission of the application is required and completed applications with all supporting materials, including letters of recommendation and GRE scores (and TOEFL scores, if applicable), are due online by the announced deadline to ensure consideration for the following fall. Late applications will not be considered.

Financial Aid

All BSDM students receive full tuition and stipend support while they are enrolled and making satisfactory progress toward the PhD degree. Although full support is guaranteed, the program strongly encourages applicants to apply for support from extramural agencies, and international applicants are encouraged to seek financial support from their national governments and fellowship agencies.

Research Facilities

Located in the Longwood Medical Area of Boston, BSDM brings together faculty in the biological sciences throughout Harvard University. The Medical Area (Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, and a cluster of affiliated hospitals) and Harvard University in Cambridge comprise one of the most concentrated areas of scientific research facilities in the United States. The interaction between faculty working at the various component institutions, through joint teaching and research as well as contact with the affiliated hospitals investigating clinical problems, enables the program to serve as a meeting place for biological, dental, medical, physical, and chemical scientists. This provides students and faculty alike with a wider range of experience and techniques than may be found in any single discipline or department.

Students have access to the Countway Library, one of the most complete biomedical research collections in the nation, and the libraries of The Forsyth Institute and Harvard University in Cambridge.

Program of Study

A rigorous curriculum covers the fundamentals of developmental biology, cell and molecular biology, biochemistry and physiology, microbiology and virology, pathology, immunology, neurobiology, tissue engineering, and genetics. In the first year, students take core courses covering this material, as well as the required course, "Introduction to Research."

In addition, students take upper-level courses designed to teach reading skills for in-depth analysis of the literature. Rotations in laboratories, in the Longwood Medical Area or in Cambridge, form an integral part of the program and allow students to investigate several research areas before choosing a dissertation laboratory.

In the second year, students will take the Preliminary Qualifying Examination (PQE) and select the advisor for the PhD dissertation work. By the third year, it is expected that most students will devote their full time to dissertation research.

Selected Dissertation Topics

  • Bo Hou, "Craniofacial Bone Remodeling"
  • Dolrudee Jumlongras, "Molecular Genetics of Tooth Agenesis"
  • Brandeis McBratney-Owen, "Development of the Cranial Base in Mice"
  • Oranart Matangkasombut, "The Role of Bromodomain Factor 1, a TFIID Subunit, in RNA Polymerase II Transcription in Saccharomyces Cerevisiae"
  • Damian Medici, "Pathogenetic mechanisms of hemangioma endothelial cells"
  • Joel Stern, "Mechanisms of suppression of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) by synthetic compounds and fusion antibodies"
  • Yanqui Liu, "The role of VEGF and VEGF receptors in bone development and homeostasis"
  • Praveen Arany, "Low Power Laser generated Reactive Oxygen Species activate Latent TGF-beta1 to direct Dental Stem Cell Differentiation for Dentin Repair"
  • Nevena Dimova, "Defining the ubiquitin and E2-enzyme requirements for APC/C-mediated degradation of cyclin B1"
  • Wei Huang, "Polycystin-1 and Bone Mechanotransduction"
  • Joseph Fleming, "Genome-wide integrative analysis of transcription factor occupancy and gene regulation in models of human cancer and cellular differentiation"
  • Chun Li, "The Role of Non-classical Regulatory T Cells in HIV-1 Infection"
  • Chi Zhang, "The X-linked Intellectual Disability Protein PHF6 Associates with the PAF1 Complex and Regulates Neuronal Migration in the Mammalian Brain"
  • Jun Li, "Towards construction of synthetic ribosomes and a self-replicating system"
  • Zhen Shi, "Genetic and Genomic Analysis of Small RNA Pathways in Nematodes"
  • Jared Sprague, "TRPV1 Sensitization in Primary Sensory Neurons”
  • Fengzhu Xiong, “Integrated Analysis of Patterning, Morphogenesis, and Cell Divisions in Embryonic Development by in toto Imaging and Quantitative Cell Tracking"

BSDM Faculty and Research Interests