News Release

January 3, 2006

Contact: Patrick S. Keefe, 860-679-2447

Health Center Materials Expert Finds Success in Failure

Testing a Product to Breaking Point Is the Means to Improve It

FARMINGTON – When Dr. J. Robert Kelly is testing a product and it breaks, he has succeeded.

Kelly, University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine professor of oral rehabilitation, biomaterials and skeletal development, is a specialist in dental materials and testing those materials to their breaking point and examining their clinical failure in order to improve them.

He develops tests that mimic the stresses materials – ceramics for fillings, alloys for implants, or adhesives – undergo in an oral environment. He observes and records the effects when the materials stress, fatigue and break, and uses those observations to build new, stronger and improved materials.

He’s sufficiently good at it so that he holds six patents with four of them licensed to industry.

“It’s cutting edge work that’s a combination of engineering and dentistry,” he said. “We’ve had a number of important outcomes in terms of how materials perform structurally, and that’s led to the creation of a network of international colleagues who share a common goal: We’re working to improve the materials dentists have to treat patients.”

Health Center dental research got a fundamental boost when the 2003 NIH renewal of the General Clinical Research Center included a “dental core.” Kelly helped formalize the proposal.

Beyond administering the dental research clinic, the dental core is now able to provide assistance in research budgeting and guidance on protocol development and regulatory issues. Moreover, he said, the dental core can provide guidance and information on study coordination which is especially helpful to faculty members who may be new to clinical research.

Implant technology is one of the factors pushing dental innovation. Kelly and colleagues are establishing an implant fatigue research center to explore the numerous issues associated with implantation.

Academics runs in his family. His father was a college dean and his mother involved in higher education. He’s always been interested in materials – his master’s degree from Marquette and doctoral degree from the joint program at M.I.T./Harvard are related to materials science.

Before joining the Health Center faculty five years ago, he completed a 21-year naval career where he rose to command the Naval Dental Research Institute. He also spent nearly a dozen years as a guest scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

“I tend to be more oriented towards the translation side of the research equation,” he said. “I’ve been involved with a lot of industry-sponsored work enhancing existing materials and I’ve partnered with industry in creating some well-validated tests.

“I like the variety of the things I’m currently involved in – the challenge of the research, the quality of the students, residents and fellows, the integration of the dental and medical faculty. It’s exciting and stimulating.”

Graduate education figures heavily in his research initiatives. He is research mentor to three junior faculty members and three residents now. He has been major thesis advisor for residents from four different specialty areas in the dental school, and he will be course director teaching biomaterials to graduate dental students.

His work at the standards bureau, his investigative acumen, plus his international collaborations on materials research prompted his recruitment as one of the officers representing the U.S. in developing international standards on behalf of the American Dental Association and the American National Standards Institute. He was also asked to be a convener of the working group at the International Organization for Standardization, writing and maintaining the international standards for dental ceramics.

One revised standards is close to being published, he said.

UConn Health includes the schools of medicine and dental medicine, the UConn Medical Group, University Dentists, and John Dempsey Hospital. Home to Bioscience Connecticut, UConn Health pursues a mission of providing outstanding health care education in an environment of exemplary patient care, research and public service. More information about UConn Health is available at

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