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Dr. David Cochran: Science, Dentistry, and British Sports Cars

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Author: Charlotte Anthony | Category: Faculty Spotlight | D.D.S./Ph.D. | Dental Science (M.S.) | April 07, 2017

While attending the University of Virginia, Dr. David Cochran took a biochemistry course that sparked his interest in science and medicine.

“I really enjoyed science and after two years, I realized you have to be really good to get funded and really lucky too,” he said. “I just couldn’t see myself being successful for a sustained period of time so I decided to apply to medical school and dental school.”

During the time of his applications, he met Steven Offenbacher who was a D.D.S./ Ph.D. stduent and decided to apply at Virginia Commonwealth University where he had already finished a Master of Science in Biochemistry.

“It was not easy, I spent all my weekends in the lab…I did four years of dental school and took the written/oral comps for my Ph.D. after the 4 th year and, did another year for my dissertation,” he said. “So in seven years, I had finished a Master’s, D.D.S. and a Ph.D which is kind of crazy.”

Following his time at Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. Cochran decided to go to Harvard for a grant program that he was accepted for. There he received a Master of Medical Sciences in Clinical Investigation, a Certificate in Periodontology, and did a Post-doctoral Fellowship in the Pathology Department at Harvard Medical School chaired by a Nobel Laureate.

“I had a good science training and a good dental training and what I observed is that people were either great researchers or great clinicians---there weren’t many in between,” he said.

Following his education, Dr. Cochran pursued a faculty position at Virginia Commonwealth University where he was an associate professor in the Department of Periodontics and an affiliate professor in the Department of Biochemistry. He also was director of Postgraduate Periodontics from 1989 to 1992.

“I worked really hard and I ran the graduate periodontal program, the collaborations we formed went well,” he said. “I was then recruited in 1992 here and at the time it was the largest periodontal department in the country. We had the reputation of being one of the best periodontics graduate programs and the researchers here were close to one another and very collaborative so I came.”

One of the aspects of being at the Health Science Center that intrigued him was the opportunity to do translational research. Dr. Cochran is currently Professor and Chairman of the Department of Periodontics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Dental School.

So far, Dr. Cochran has worked on over 15 human clinical trials, 40 canine studies and three baboon studies.

“I’ve been really blessed because I also volunteered at the Food and Drug Administration on the Dental Advisory Panel so I learned how technology gets approved,” he said. “After seven years on the Advisory Panel, I started working with companies to work on different products. Three products I have helped on have been approved by the FDA and it was neat because I’ve seen it go from basic scienceàanimal researchà clinical trials to approval. It’s really rewarding to translate your research into clinical care.”

He is currently working on research on dental implants and bone and periodontal regeneration.

“Dental implants represent a technology that’s come a long way to replace missing teeth. In the past, people wore dentures and that’s not satisfactory,” he said. “With implants we can hook the teeth to the bone.”

In addition to research, Dr. Cochran has also been involved  in numerous professional organizations and served as President of such groups such as the American Academy of Periodontology, Academy of Osseointegration, and the Southwest Society of Periodontics, and the International Team for Implantology. This last organization is compromised of over 16,000 people worldwide in 27 countries and regions and is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. 

“The best part of my job is the mixture of research, teaching, and clinical care,” he said. “I saw patients privately for 32 years but I stopped because I’ve become so busy that I just don’t have the time anymore.”

He is also a fellow of the American College of Dentistry and the International College of Dentistry. Dr. Cochran has published numerous scientific articles and abstracts on various periodontal, biochemistry, and implant topics. He recently received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bern in Switzerland for his work on dental implants. 

“I love research. I’m a science guy. I love doing papers and the grant work. I’ve got 5 million miles on American Airlines because I travel a lot and lecture in different countries. I love what I do. I love discovering new stuff.”

Dr. Cochran said that one of the things he learned over the years is the importance of having a hobby.

“I have three things that I’m into—old British sport cars, motorcycles and golf. I’m currently restoring a 1959 Triumph TR3A. They are cheap and easy to work on…I want to learn about auto mechanics and it’s a great hobby because I’m learning how things work. 

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