A new beginning

Dr. Larry Bellinger retires as associate dean for research and graduate studies
September 9th, 2020

Dr. Larry Bellinger has been a leading force in research, teaching and moving the college forward.

Retirement is a new segue for Dr. Larry Bellinger, whose impactful career leaves ripples of influence on Texas A&M College of Dentistry.

He is a force in research, noteworthy as the world’s leading expert on the role of the dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus in regulating ingestive behavior and body weight. Widely known are his National Institutes of Health-funded studies on the role of the liver and hormones in controlling feeding behavior. More recently, Bellinger used his expertise to receive NIH R01 funding for research on the effects of hormones on orofacial pain. He has 162 peer-reviewed research publications and 224 abstracts to his credit.

These efforts don’t feel like work: “If you’re really into the research, and I’ve published quite a bit, it’s kind of nice because people pay you to do your hobby,” Bellinger says.

Administrative leadership and extensive teaching are Bellinger’s equally important contributions at the College of Dentistry, where his expertise in physiology and endocrinology have sparked student learning in addition to new scientific discoveries. He shouldered heavy responsibilities as associate dean for research and graduate studies for the past 16 years, all the while continuing to frequent the lecture hall in delivering basic science instruction to the college’s students.

This Texas A&M University System Regents Professor retired Sept. 1 after 44 years at the College of Dentistry.

Retirement doesn’t mean an end to his research or to teaching, an aspect of academia Bellinger says he enjoys. He will continue to instruct in endocrinology and physiology for dental and graduate students and present lectures on research methodology and responsible conduct. His teaching effectiveness over the past four decades is reflected in dental students’ consistently high scores on the national dental board exam.

The recent months of remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic have provided a transition of sorts.

“These have been very strange times without the personal one-on-one,” he says. “When you lecture on Zoom, you miss the daily interaction with all the people, but I guess that’s kind of eased me into retirement a little bit.”

Bellinger’s legacy in the college’s research enterprise will continue to benefit scientists college-wide; his hand in enhancing research facilities and procedures since 1976 has elevated the research environment significantly. Likewise, his service on dozens of college, health science center and university-level committees at Texas A&M has positively impacted a range of academic priorities, including graduate education, faculty promotion and tenure, research and institutional planning.

After the health science center’s formation in 1999, Bellinger chaired its Appointment, Promotion and Tenure Committee for 10 years, during which he was a key author of documents guiding promotion and tenure, post-tenure review and academic freedom. The tenure review process currently affects up to 60 health science center faculty members annually.

“I think it’s been good for the college to become a part of the university,” Bellinger says. “It’s meant a huge amount of change; I’ve been involved with a lot of graduate studies and research. I’m on six or more committees at A&M right now, and it’s been fun interacting with those folks.”

Bellinger’s professional influence extends nationally as an ad hoc reviewer for 36 different journals, including the American Journal of Physiology, Brain Research, Endocrinology, Journal of Applied Physiology, Nature and Science. He has twice been interviewed by the editors of Science for stories on the discovery of the proteins leptin and orexin. He was a founding member of the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society and is a Fellow and founding member of the international Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior.

Bellinger received his doctoral degree in physiology from the University of California at Davis in 1974 and completed postdoctoral training in neuroendocrinology at the State University of New York-Buffalo in 1976. He is encouraged by the progress he’s witnessed at the College of Dentistry since he arrived.

“It’s been great working with everyone over the years,” he says. “We’ve gone from ranking 28th to 12th in funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research while I’ve been associate dean, but not that I did it. The college has developed a research powerhouse in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. More recently, the dean has brought in high-end clinical researchers. And now that we have the new building, we have space for labs to further recruit research scientists. The dean and I would like to break into the top 10 dental colleges in NIH funding.

“I think the college needs to be proud of the faculty who have really worked to make our dental, dental hygiene, clinical graduate and basic science graduate programs the best they can be. This is not a new phenomenon; it’s a steady thing over my stay, with the faculty trying to do the best they could for all our students.”

First up for Bellinger in retirement: a western national park tour with his wife, Karen, in a 24-foot Winnebago Navion motor home, accompanied by their German shepherd, Ada.

— Carolyn Cox