Jeffrey Ebersole joined UNLV because of the promising opportunities offered by the Top Tier initiative and the creation of an Academic Health Center, and he brings with him research experience that includes working under one of Dr. Jonas Salk’s colleagues.
I was attracted to UNLV for three reasons. First, the Top Tier initiative and movement toward creating an Academic Health Center is an intriguing opportunity. During my earlier career stops at the Health Science Center in San Antonio and the University of Kentucky, I took positions that focused on building a research enterprise within the dental school to meet the expanding focus of the universities and increase their national recognition as research extensive institutions. I very much enjoyed the building process and heard and felt many of the same comments and commitments expressed at UNLV.
As an avid golfer, the second reason is the excellent climate Las Vegas offers. Enduring the summer’s heat is better than shoveling snow. And the third reason is that relocating to UNLV gets my wife and I closer to two of our children and grandchildren who live in San Antonio. Thus, “good things come in threes!”
What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?
I attended college at Temple University in Philadelphia and graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh when Pittsburgh was still a steel mill town. During my time at Temple and Pittsburgh, as well as Boston at Harvard, San Antonio at the Health Science Center, and at the University of Kentucky, I was linked to very major research universities that had substantial medical centers. These institutions provided broad opportunities for collaborations and the ability to identify and access unique expertise and facilities to further my research interests. UNLV is striving to create this type of environment, which will take an extended amount of time and long-term commitment to achieve. I am excited to be part of the growing foundation that will help realize that goal.
Where did you grow up and what was that like?
I grew up in central Pennsylvania in a small town northeast of Harrisburg. The area is a small farming community that became part of a post-World War II building boom for returning veterans and recently celebrated its 250th anniversary. My family purchased their first house in this community in 1953 and still live in that house today. Interestingly, even though Harrisburg is the state capitol, there was no major research university in this area during my youth — just a few smaller state public and private liberal arts colleges. Thus, I had to leave the area for the type of education that I wanted. Both my family and my wife’s family still live there, so we get back routinely to visit them.
What is your current job title and what are a few of your duties?
I am the associate dean for research at the School of Dental Medicine. I view this position from two perspectives. One is actively developing my own research through grants and publications, and serving as a mentor for faculty and students. Second, and equally important, is identifying those faculty and students who are interested in and committed to developing research projects, and helping them succeed by identifying resources, providing guidance for needed collaborations across UNLV, and breaking down barriers. As an academic institution, we are expected to not only train dentists and dental specialists for clinical careers, but also develop an environment to create new knowledge in these disciplines. Research is simply the structured process to validate this knowledge.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I ended up in the area of immunology and oral immunology by accident. My Ph.D. program at the University of Pittsburgh was a joint program in the microbiology and immunology department between the medical and dental schools. During my early graduate program, I took immunology from Dr. Aurelia Koros, a colleague of Dr. Niels Jerne (Nobel Prize, 1984), who gave me my only “B” in my graduate classes. I decided I would show her and become an immunologist!
When Dr. Jerne left the university, Dr. Julius Youngner, who was a principal colleague of Jonas Salk in developing the polio vaccine, became chair. My new Ph.D. mentor was an immunologist in the dental school and I did my graduate work in some of the physical laboratories where Dr. Salk developed the vaccine. This was quite exciting.
At that time, the University of Pittsburgh had the largest germfree animal colony outside of the laboratories of bacteriology at the University of Notre Dame. My Ph.D. thesis was determining secretory immune responses using these germfree mice. During my post-doctoral fellowship in the department of immunology at the Forsyth Institute in Boston affiliated with Harvard School of Dental Medicine I gained a true appreciation for collaborative team science and working in translational research with my dental clinical colleagues. Forty years later I am still at it.
What is the biggest challenge in your field?
Periodontal disease is one of the most widespread global infections. While not necessarily a disease with mortal consequences, the morbidity in the population and the long-term societal and economic impacts of poor oral health affect more than 743 million people. We know that the disease is triggered by a complex oral microbiome that differs in health and disease. However, we know little about the early cues that cause this transition to a pathogenic biofilm.
Finish this sentence, "If I couldn't work in my current field, I would like to ..."
I haven’t really thought much about this. A professional golfer would be my knee-jerk reaction for first choice! I guess if I had to choose something more feasible, I think I would want to be a wildlife conservationist. I very much enjoy the outdoors and the ocean, so I could see this career path at sea or on the land, as long as it’s not in a region that’s too cold and wintry.
Tell us about a time in your life when you have been daring.
I was invited to speak at an international conference on periodontal disease in Lillehammer, Norway, just after the 1994 Winter Olympics. A group of locals convinced us to go cross-country skiing on the Olympic course, which was challenging enough in itself. However, they further convinced us that “après-ski” we should partake of the local custom of a true outside wood-burning sauna, followed by a naked dash down an icy snow-covered hill, and then jumping into a mostly frozen Norwegian lake. Surviving this escapade was quite challenging, but the more debilitating part was that I had forgotten to remove my glasses, which likely remain at the bottom of that lake. I then had to wear my prescription polarized sunglasses, smelling like a burning log since the natural sauna odor emanates from your skin for days, during my return trip through U.S. customs. My biggest concern was that the agents would profile me as a drug smuggler.
Tell us about an object in your office that has significance for you and why it is significant.
I have quite a few things in my office that are significant in different ways because they represent various aspects of my life. First, pictures of my family including three children and eight grandchildren. Second, multiple photographs of a golf group from our annual golf tournament during the last 13 years, all of whom are colleagues in dental research and academics. We called this group the “DRAG.com” golf tour that denotes “Dental Research Amateur Golf.” Third, I have a number of plaques and pictures that represent a really productive time during my career when I served on the board of the American Association of Dental Research and was president from 2011-12. These items trigger memories of working with a group of great folks from across the country, and the world with the International Association of Dental Research leadership, who volunteered their time and effort for our primary professional organization and supported basic and clinical research in the breadth of oral health sciences.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
As a researcher during the early 70s, you generally had to make immune reagents yourself because there were no companies that produced them, nor were there Internet options. I needed to make an antibody in rabbits from mouse IgA as part of my Ph.D. thesis project. The best source of this was colostrum and breast milk from mother mice. Thus, I had to devise a method to induce lactation and literally “milk” mother mice like you would a cow. Probably not many people can include in their resume that they can milk mice.