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Robert J. Genco, 80, world-renowned UB periodontal researcher was 'father of oral science'

Oct. 31, 1938 — March 6, 2019

Oral health was traditionally seen as involving only the mouth. But the possibility of a link between gum disease and overall health fascinated Dr. Robert Genco.

From the time he began his research in the late 1960s, his daughters said, he focused on how oral health was linked with other ailments. In his career of more than 50 years, he examined the link between gum disease and diabetes, heart disease, several cancers, obesity and stroke.

Widely considered the world's foremost periodontal researcher, to his family he was much more — generous, loving and humble, a funny man who enjoyed travel, collecting art, listening to opera and giving parties. "He loved to entertain people from around the world, often people who had come to his lab to work," said his daughter Julie Genco Alford.

Dr. Genco, DDS, died after a cardiac event at work on March 6, 2019. The Snyder resident was 80.

Dr. Genco had worked at the University at Buffalo for 51 years, and was a Distinguished Professor of Oral Biology and Microbiology. Named director of the UB Microbiome Center when it opened in 2016, he was once described by the Journal of Dental Research as "the father of oral science."

"He was curious — he was a life learner," said his daughter Deborah Genco Powell.

Dr. Genco was born in Silver Creek, the first child of Joseph and Santa (Barone) Genco and brother of Marlene and Gordon.

A graduate of Silver Creek High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Canisius College in 1959, a doctorate in dental surgery cum laude from UB in 1963, and a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1967.

Dr. Genco began work at UB in 1968. During his career, he contributed to more than 415 scientific articles, published or edited nearly 30 books and book chapters and held editorial positions at 11 scientific journals. He was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Periodontology from 1996 to 2006.

He held 11 patents and received many multimillion-dollar grants for research projects.

Dr. Genco was chair of the UB Department of Oral Biology from 1977 to 2002. From 2002 to 2016, he was vice provost of the UB Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach, which during that time helped launch more than 80 businesses and processed more than 1,300 new discoveries.

When he was named director of the Center for Microbiome Research, Dr. Genco said that study of the microbiome, the microorganisms that live in and on the human body, could "transform life sciences, leading to new approaches to controlling disease and maintaining health."

A partnership between Dr. Genco and the Sunstar Group led to the development of the GUM brand of oral health products in 1989.

At UB, Dr. Genco taught clinical periodontics and microbiology, directed the graduate program in oral biology and acted as a mentor to more than 80 graduate and postdoctoral students.

He received dozens of awards, including the American Dental Association Gold Medal for Excellence in Research, the ADA Award for Clinical Research, the SUNY Research Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, and the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) Distinguished Scientist Award.

Dr. Genco was a member of the National Academy of Medicine and a past president of both the IADR and American Association for Dental Research. He served on two Food and Drug Administration panels.

In 1959, Dr. Genco married Sandra Clarke Genco, and they raised two daughters and a son. Mrs. Genco died in 2002. In 2006, he married Frances Doherty Genco.

“Dr. Genco was a world-renowned scholar, educator, mentor, innovator and entrepreneur who was exceptionally committed to our university throughout his long and distinguished career,” said UB President Satish K. Tripathi.

“Dr. Genco was a legendary figure in dental research known throughout the world,” said Joseph J. Zambon, dean of the School of Dental Medicine. “He will be remembered for his towering intellect, for innovative research that transformed the scientific basis of dental practice, and, most of all, for his exceptional humanity which he generously shared with his many students and colleagues."

Dr. Genco served on the advisory board of the new Graduate College of Dental Biosciences at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and on the board of the Buffalo Museum of Science. He was a trustee of Nichols School. and a member of Park Country Club, where he was an avid golfer.

He enjoyed getting together several times a year with friends to make Italian sausage.

Besides his wife of 12 years and his two daughters, Dr. Genco is survived by a son, Robert Michael Genco; sister, Marlene Genco; brother, Gordon Genco; 10 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, four nephews and several cousins.

Services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday in Westminster Presbyterian Church, 724 Delaware Ave.

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