Todd Kitten, Ph.D.
Member scientist, VCU Philips Institute for Oral Health Research
Todd Kitten, Ph.D., an associate professor of oral and craniofacial molecular biology at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry, discovered his passion for research while an undergraduate at the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas.
“I thought I would like research even in high school and college,” said Kitten, a member scientist of the VCU Philips Institute for Oral Health Research . “It wasn’t until I did an undergraduate summer research fellowship project the summer after my junior year that I knew for sure that this was what I wanted to do.”
Kitten, who also has a faculty appointment with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology within the VCU School of Medicine , joined VCU’s faculty in 1996. Currently a co-investigator on three different federally funded research projects, Kitten said his primary research focuses on infective endocarditis, a disease caused by bacteria that live in the mouth.
“It’s a very serious infection of the heart,” he said. “It’s very rare, but the mortality rate is 20 to 30 percent. We’re looking right now at ways to prevent this disease.”
The work clearly energizes and inspires Kitten.
“Every day, I can think of some new idea and all I have to do is convince somebody that it’s important and I can go test that,” he said. “Even though people think of research as being repetitive — and, yes, when you do an experiment, you need to do it the same way every time you do it — thinking about experiments and designing an experiment to be elegant is just very exciting.
“And then when you have your best plans and you do your experiment and it tells you something you didn’t expect, to try to understand what that means, that’s really where the learning happens.”