Science/Health: Harrison Mackler ’07, Biology Major

Periodontal student Harvard Dental School, Boston

Harrison Mackler cut his teeth in a London dentistry internship, where his research was quite literally bone deep.

While studying abroad on Clark’s London Internship Program his junior year, Mackler worked at King’s College’s London Dental Institute, and began learning about tissue engineering. “By combining stem cells and growth factors onto materials that mimic our own body,” he explains, “we can make a final product that could be used to replace our own wounded or aged body parts.”

When he returned to Clark, he used his Steinbrecher and Comer fellowships to deepen his research with Professor Tim Lyerla. Mackler focused on a synthetic alternative to bone grafts that could be used to repair bone damaged by injury or disease such as osteoporosis, arthritis and cancer.

After Clark, Mackler expanded his tissue-engineering research to include teeth, first in a lab at Tufts Dental School and then at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Continuing on this trajectory, Mackler became the only dental student in the country to be selected for a year-long Howard Hughes Medical Institute Medical Fellowship, which he carried out at the Forsyth Institute and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. There, he took a year off from dental school to investigate a cure to suppress the immune responses in the mouth, trying selectively to stop the bone from breaking down.

“I was able to combine the biomaterials aspect from my London experience, my interest in bone from my Steinbrecher experience, and my newfound interest in the immune system, all within the context of dentistry,” he says.

Mackler’s year of research translated into his winning five science prizes in 2011 and making presentations about his findings at academic conferences across the country.

After graduating from Harvard in May 2012, Mackler will start his residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, where he’ll spend three years specializing in clinical periodontology. “I am working toward a career as a practicing periodontist,” he says, “but I will undoubtedly maintain a connection back to academics, whether that be through research, teaching, or a combination of the two.”