Meet Dr. David Wu: A Future Clinician-Scientist Charting His Course at HSDM

March 4, 2021
Headshot of David Wu, DMSc23, taken by Shaima Bahammam, DMSc23

David T. Wu, DMSc23, is an Advanced Graduate Education (AGE) student in Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s Department of Periodontology. Born in Suzhou, China, Wu grew up in Montreal, Quebec, and received his Bachelor of Science in Anatomy and Cell Biology from McGill University in 2015, followed by his DMD from the Faculty of Dentistry at McGill. In his free time, Wu enjoys running and cycling around Boston. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wu also enjoyed weekly Boston Symphony Orchestra performances, visits to the Museum of Fine Arts, and exploring Boston’s food scene.

Why did you pursue dentistry as a career?

Dental medicine grants me the flexibility to tailor my future career based on my interests and vision. The ability to make a positive and concrete impact on an individual patient’s life by alleviating pain, improving health, and building confidence is truly a privilege. More specifically, I chose to specialize in Periodontology as it combines oral-systemic longitudinal patient care, artistry of surgical procedures, and opportunities for innovative discoveries. In addition, dental and oral health research is an exciting field where clinicians collaborate with scientists and policy makers to advance our field to create a better tomorrow. Finally, inspiring students and colleagues to fulfill their potential and become leaders in their respective areas of interest is what I look forward to in my career. Ultimately, I aspire to integrate clinical practice, scientific research, and dental education as a clinician-scientist-educator to improve oral and systemic health for the public.

Tell us more about your research.

My research interests focus on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine using innovative biomaterials and applying bioengineering principles to craniofacial and periodontal regeneration. During dental school, my research focused on the use of cell-based therapies to regenerate salivary glands in head and neck cancer patients suffering from post-radiotherapy salivary gland hypofunction under the mentorship of Professor Simon D. Tran. At Harvard University, my current thesis research explores the role of biomaterial mechanics on stem cell behavior, and the clinical translation of novel biomaterials for tissue regeneration and drug delivery under the guidance of Professor David J. Mooney at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Wyss Institute. As a future clinician-scientist, I aspire to promote interdisciplinary collaboration between biologists, engineers, and clinicians. Together, we can bridge the gap between benchtop research and bed/chairside treatment by translation basic science discoveries into innovative therapeutics in order to improve long-term treatment outcomes and patients’ quality of life.

David Wu, DMSc23, poses in the Research and Education Building lobby at AGE student Orientation.What has been your greatest challenge since arriving at HSDM?

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of the entire HSDM community. On a personal level, it was my greatest challenge to find a balance between clinical duties, didactic activities, and research productivity amidst physical distancing policies and limited accessibility to clinical and research facilities. In addition, travel restrictions rendered visiting my family and loved ones in Canada difficult. On a positive note, the resilience, adaptability, and unity showcased by the entire HSDM family is inspiring and has certainly encouraged my colleagues and I to persevere through these challenging times to care for our patients while advancing our educational and research journey.

What have you learned from other students?

Ever since my first day at HSDM, I have learned a great deal from my colleagues and peers. My fellow residents in the AGE Periodontology program have created a collaborative and mutually supportive environment where we share our clinical knowledge, surgical experience, and bond as a team. In addition, I have learned a great deal from co-residents in other AGE specialties. As we collaborate on multidisciplinary clinical cases, we share our respective expertise and combine our unique perspectives to provide the highest quality patient care. Finally, while sharing my knowledge of periodontology with DMD students, I also learn about the HSDM pre-doctoral curriculum and student life. As a future educator, this valuable learning experience will help tailor teaching methods to individual students while developing creative curriculum based on new trends and technology. Diversity is the strength of our community, and I am excited to witness the future that HSDM students and graduates will build together.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

My colleagues and patients are always surprised when they learn that I am fluent in French. As I grew up in Montreal, Quebec, I completed most of my education in francophone or bilingual institutions and had the privilege of serving dental patients in French. Working in the Harvard Dental Center is a unique opportunity to connect with my French-speaking patients, who are always pleasantly surprised and happy to be able to communicate more comfortably. On a personal level, knowledge of French grants me the pleasure to appreciate francophone literature and performing arts in their original language.

David Wu, DMSc23, and his periodontology participate in the annual PerioDash 5k event.What do you like to do in your spare time?

Running and cycling have allowed me to explore Boston and discover hidden gems in the city, all while building friendship with fellow students and residents from HSDM. My favorite running routes and cycling destinations include the Charles River Esplanade, Charlestown, Mystic Lake and Dorchester Bay. Together with the Division of Periodontology under Dr. David M. Kim’s leadership, we participate in the PerioDash every year to fundraise for the American Academy of Periodontology Foundation to advance its mission of “improving the periodontal and general health of the public through research and education.” Professor Shinya Yamanaka, Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine, brilliantly says, “Scientific research is like running a marathon. Although the journey may be long and arduous, the end goal is always worth the race.”  I am excited for the journey ahead at HSDM and beyond!