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Dr. Sebastian G. Ciancio, ‘giant’ in dental research, dies at 83

Scholar recipient of 2014 Norton M. Ross Award for Excellence in Clinical Research

October 21, 2020

By David Burger

Buffalo, N.Y. — Sebastian G. Ciancio, D.D.S., a leading researcher in periodontology and pharmacology and recipient of the ADA’s 2014 Norton M. Ross Award for Excellence in Clinical Research, died Oct. 17 at the age of 83.

 Dr. Sebastian Ciancio
Dr. Ciancio
“Sir Isaac Newton wrote in a 1675 letter to Robert Hooke, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,’” said Mia Geisinger, D.D.S., immediate past chair of the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs and professor at the University of Alabama School of Dentistry. “Dr. Sebastian Ciancio was truly a giant in our field. Throughout his over-50-year career, Dr. Ciancio changed the way that we all practice dentistry and gave mentorship and inspiration to so many dentists and dental scientists. In addition to his brilliant work as a researcher, he was a passionate educator and touched so many of his students, residents and fellows, many of whom have gone on to soar to heights, launched from his shoulders.”

‘Forever thankful’

Marcelo Araujo, D.D.S., Ph.D., ADA chief science officer and ADA Science & Research Institute CEO, said Dr. Ciancio was a mentor to many in the dental profession.

“Dr. Ciancio was not just a leader in dentistry, he was involved in the development of many therapeutic agents and devices currently used by many members of the ADA,” Dr. Araujo said. “His latest work with the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs led to the publication of the ADA Dental Drug Handbook: A Quick Reference. During my fellowship in clinical research and teaching in periodontics, I learned a lot of the skills that allowed me to get to my current position at the ADA. I will be forever thankful to Dr. Ciancio.”

Aside from the Norton M. Ross Award honor, Dr. Ciancio's curriculum vitae is replete with other awards. Some of these include the Gold Medal Award presented by the American Academy of Periodontology; the Distinguished Service Award by the United States Pharmacopeia; the Hirschfeld Award in Periodontics from the Northeastern Society of Periodontists; and the Distinguished Scientist Award in Pharmacology from the International Association for Dental Research.

Dr. Ciancio was the author or coauthor of more than 150 articles pertaining to periodontal disease and dental therapeutics in major dental journals, serving as editor of Biological Therapies in Dentistry, a newsletter for dental professionals, and consultant for the Journal of Periodontology.

According to his faculty website, his research interests included the effects of systemic medication on oral health; local delivery of medication for the prevention/treatment of periodontal disease; delivery systems for oral medications; and the effect of medications on collagen metabolism.

Research leads the way

On top of research, Dr. Ciancio was an active leader within the ADA and other professional organizations.

“Dr. Ciancio was also an advocate of organized dentistry and an avid volunteer,” Dr. Geisinger said. “He served as the co-chair of the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs and as the president of both the American Academy of Periodontology and the American Academy of Periodontology Foundation. As someone who has stood in his oversized shoes in two of those roles, I was reminded of his generous spirit and his dedication to our profession and our patients and attempted to live up to his example.”

Dr. Ciancio also served as a Commission on Dental Accreditation review committee member twice, on two different committees: dental hygiene education and postdoctoral general dentistry education.

Dr. Ciancio was most recently the distinguished service professor and immediate past chair in the Department of Periodontics and Endodontics and director of the Center for Dental Studies at State University of New York at Buffalo. He also was a clinical professor in the Department of Pharmacology at SUNY and a consultant for the Veterans Administration Medical Center and the Erie County Medical Center.

Lasting legacy

Born June 21, 1937, Dr. Ciancio earned his dental degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, where he also completed a National Institutes of Health research fellowship in the department of physiology and fellowships in pharmacology and periodontology. His postdoctoral work included studies in biostatistics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; periodontology at SUNY; radio-isotope techniques at Western New York Nuclear Center; and clinical pharmacology at Vanderbilt University.

In 2014, Dr. Ciancio was the recipient of one of the ADA’s greatest honors, the Norton M. Ross Award for Excellence in Clinical Research. In an ADA News interview where the honor was announced, Dr. Ciancio credited Dr. Ross himself as a mentor.

"[Dr. Ross] is one of the first who introduced me to the basic principles of clinical research,” Dr. Ciancio said at the time. “He pioneered the concept of evidence-based dentistry, which was unheard of 40 years ago when I began my clinical research. We'd worked together over the years. As a matter of fact, the first monograph I ever published was with him. It was on pharmacology."

Lorne M. Golub, D.M.D., distinguished professor of oral biology at pathology at Stony Brook University’s School of Dental Medicine, who, along with Michael Glick, D.M.D, nominated Dr. Ciancio for the Norton M. Ross Award for Excellence in Clinical Research, said that Dr. Ciancio “was widely recognized as an international expert in the pharmacological management of oral and related systemic diseases … I miss him deeply.”

Dr. Glick, former editor of The Journal of the American Dental Association and professor in oral diagnostic sciences at the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, said Dr. Ciancio was a “mentor, friend and colleague … He has a legacy that will endure for a long, long time.”

Joseph J. Zambon, D.D.S., Ph.D., dean of the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, said in an email to the academic community that Dr. Ciancio was “one of the world’s leading figures in periodontology, and he was the longest-serving department chair in all of SUNY.”

Dr. Zambon said that the school plans on celebrating Dr. Ciancio’s career and life at an upcoming symposium in his honor – “The Cutting Edge of Clinical Research in Oral Health” — to be held at a future date in 2021.

Dr. Ciancio is survived by his wife, Marilyn Ciancio, children Michele Bessinger and Sebastian J. Ciancio, and four grandchildren, according to his obituary.

Memorials may be made in Dr. Ciancio's memory to the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine Scholarship Fund.