Research Overview »
Key Research Areas
Following is an overview of Penn Dental Medicine’s leading research programs.
Investigators are pursuing research focused on advanced therapeutics with the potential for bringing new treatment modalities to everything from dental caries and periodontal disease to diabetes and herpes.
- Dr. Hyun (Michel) Koo is developing new therapeutic approaches to target biofilm at its core using synthetic as well as naturally occurring agents, including nanotechnology-based drug carriers and compounds in cranberries.
- Dr. Henry Daniell has developed a novel plant-based system that allows for the oral delivery of proteins and is effective in producing and delivering vaccines (for polio, tuberculosis, and malaria) and biopharmaceuticals to treat Alzheimer’s, diabetes, hypertension, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, and retinopathy.
- Dr. Songtao Shi has isolated and identified several new populations of oral-tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells and is further investigating their use in tissue engineering, disease modeling, and clinical treatment.
- Dr. Dana Graves and colleagues are working with a slow release polymer that improves diabetic bone healing and could be used to treat a number of diseases where inflammation causes bone loss.
- Dr. George Hajishengallis is studying possible therapeutics for periodontal disease, having identified an inhibitor of a protein involved in immunity and inflammatory response that has reversed naturally occurring chronic periodontitis inflammation in a preclinical model.
- Dr. Gary Cohen research is focused on understanding the molecular events that mediate the entry of herpes simplex virus (HSV) into cells and promote its pathogenesis in its human host. Another goal is to develop a subunit vaccine against smallpox using proteins from vaccinia virus or from variola virus (smallpox).
- Dr. Robert Ricciardi has developed a new technology that holds promise for producing antiviral drugs to combat such diseases as smallpox, herpes ocular keratitis, and a skin disease that largely affects children. To create a channel that can drive these antiviral drug discoveries in providing unmet medical needs, Dr. Ricciardi has founded Viraze, a biotechnology startup company.
Investigators pursue novel therapeutic approaches to both treat and prevent this persistent disease.
- Dr. George Hajishengallis investigates the use of the DEL-1 glycoprotein to prevent and treat the onset of the disease through regulation of the inflammatory immune response.
- Dr. Dana Graves explores the molecular mechanisms by which inflammation induces periodontal disease, interferes with bone formation and impairs fracture healing.
- Dr. Denis Kinane and Dr. Joseph Fiorellini employ host-derived diagnostic markers related to soft tissue destruction and bone degradation induced by periodontitis.
- Dr. Bruce Shenker investigates the use of a bacterial immunotoxin as a pharmacologic agent for treating cancer and inflammatory disorders like peridontitis.
- Dr. Joseph Fiorellini uses molecular approaches for regrowing damaged tissue via regenerative periodontal therapy.
Oral Mucosal Diseases & Bone Disorders
Investigators specialize in treating oral mucosal and bone and tissue disorders, especially those induced and/or exacerbated by conventional cancer therapies.
- Dr. Anh Le investigates the use of human gingival-derived mesenchymal stem cells (GMSC) to treat oral mucositis induced by chemotherapy. She is also investigating the use of these stem cells to treat bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaw (BRONJ).
- Dr. Sunday Akintoye & Dr. Elliot Hersh examine how bisphosphonate drugs negatively affect bone density and impair oral health.
- Dr. Thomas Sollecito develops novel oral drug delivery systems and mucoadhesive products for the treatment of mucosal disorders. He is also creating new treatment modalities for precancerous oral lesions, including leukoplakia and lichen planus/lichenoid mucositis.
- Dr. Eric Stoopler treats plasma cell disorders, multiple myeloma and oral mucosal toxicities caused by melphalan, a common chemotherapeutic agent.
Penn Dental Medicine is a pioneer in the field of complex dental pain disorders, ranging from TMD/TMJ, orofacial neuralgias and neuropathic pain. In 2012, Penn was designated by the NIH as a National Center of Excellence in Pain Education (in collaboration with Penn’s Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine & Nursing).
- Dr. Elliot Hersh is an expert in dental pain models and the pharmacologic management of oral pain. He has directed pivotal studies which led to FDA approval of myriad analgesic and anesthetic agents. He also develops guidelines for postsurgical pain, efficacy and tolerability and dose-ranging studies.
Advanced Dental Materials & Devices
The School regularly conducts industry-funded laboratory and clinical trials on advanced dental adhesives, cements, restorative and impression materials, biomaterials, advanced coatings, surface treatments and ceramics and employs advanced CAD/CAM technology.
- Dr. Markus Blatz investigates the clinical performance, efficacy and bond strength of new adhesives systems; the dimensional behavior and fracture tolerance of novel materials; and the biological behavior (cytotoxicity, bacterial adhesion) of restorative materials.
- Dr. Francis Mante explores the use of biomaterials to restore and replace teeth, elastromeric monomers to strengthen dental composites, and novel materials with antimicrobial properties to prevent secondary caries and infection.
- Dr. Fusun Ozer employs new adhesive materials to increase the longevity of resin fillings and the use of resin adhesives to promote the healing of pulp tissue under deep cavities.
- Dr. Sunday Akintoye studies biomimetic, calcium-silicate cements that support the differentiation of orofacial mesenchymal stem cells. He also uses beta-catenin to regenerate teeth.
- Dr. Syngcuk Kim investigates root end filling materials with osteogenic properties to regenerate periapical bone and biomimetic mineralization and biceramic materials for root repair.
- Dr. Kenneth Kent employs drag-reducing, anti-fouling coatings on the exposed components of implant restorations to reduce surface microbial colonization and improve oral hygiene.
- Dr. Joseph Fiorellini explores the osseointegration of oral devices and implants, incorporating growth factors to regenerate structure and small molecule signaling and 3-D scaffold development to promote regeneration.
Oral & Systemic Health
Penn Dental Medicine recognizes that oral health complications are often implicitly linked to systemic health.
- Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat leads a multi-center, industry-funded trial to assess the effect of advanced daily oral hygiene in the first and second trimesters on gingivitis and birth outcomes.
- Dr. Dana Graves explores the link between diabetes and complications that affect bone formation, fracture repair, periodontal disease and soft tissue healing.
- Dr. Dana Graves & Dr. Joseph Fiorellini are testing an experimental, biodegradable polymeric pro-drug (NSAID) to reduce inflammation, eliminate bacteria and promote/accelerate bone formation in diabetic patients.
- Dr. Denis Kinane investigates the linkages between oral health, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including inflammation, immunity, microbial pathogenesis and genetics.
Tooth Decay/Oral Infectious Disease
The research of Dr. Hyun (Michel) Koo focuses on understanding how pathogenic biofilms cause oral infectious disease, particularly too decay. He uses advanced molecular and imaging technologies to unveil the principles of biofilm formation on tooth surfaces. At the same time, he is developing new therapeutic approaches to target biofilm at its core using synthetic as well as naturally occurring agents, including nanotechnology-based drug carriers and compounds in cranberries.
Oral Delivery of Protein Drugs
Through his research, Dr. Henry Daniell has developed a novel platform for producing and delivering drugs through plants. Therapeutic proteins are introduced into plant cells and the specially engineered plants are grown, harvested, dried and encapsulated, and delivered orally. This plant-based systems allows oral delivery of proteins and is effective in producing and delivery vaccines (for polio, tuberculosis, and malaria) and biopharmaceuticals to treat Alzheimer’s, diabetes, hypertension, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, and retinopathy.
The research of Dr. Songtao Shi focuses on the characterization of human mesenchymal stem cells and the relationship between mesenchymal stem cells and orofacial diseases at the molecule and cellular levels. Along with his collaborators, his lab has isolated and identified several new populations of mesenchymal stem cells, including dental pulp stem cells, stem cells from human exfoliated deciduous teeth, periodontal ligament stem cells, stem cells from apical papilla, and tendon stem/progenitor cells. These discoveries are enabling further investigations of these oral-tissue-derived stem cells and their use in tissue engineering, disease modeling, and clinical treatment. Dr. Shi and his collaborators were the first to use mesenchymal stem cells to treat systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), periodontitis, and regenerate pulp tissue in patients.
Dr. Dana Graves
Vice Dean for Scholarship & Research