DScD Candidate Kang Ko Awarded NIDCR Research Career Development Award


Dr. Kang Ko, a periodontal resident, is the first DScD candidate from Penn Dental Medicine to be awarded a K08 grant.

Philadelphia – Dr. Kang Ko (D’ 15), a resident in Penn Dental Medicine’s combined periodontics and Doctor of Science in Dentistry (DScD) program, has been awarded a Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award (K08) from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Dr. Ko is the first DScD candidate from Penn Dental Medicine to be awarded a K08 grant, which will provide support for him/his research activities throughout his five-year postdoctoral program.

The purpose of the NIDCR K08 is to prepare promising dentists or other clinicians for careers in dental, oral, and craniofacial health research. Penn Dental Medicine introduced its DScD program in the 2011-2012 academic year to do the same. The DScD combines the research and clinical strengths of the School, drawing faculty mentors from both the clinical and basic science departments, and offering students the chance to collaborate on research projects across disciplines. Presently, there are 14 students enrolled in the School’s DScD program.

Dr. Ko has been conducting research under the mentorship of Dr. Dana Graves, Vice Dean for Research & Scholarship and Professor, Department of Periodontics, since he entered Penn Dental Medicine as a DMD student (earning his DMD in 2015) and is continuing in Dr. Graves’ lab throughout his postdoctoral studies, investigating the effect of diabetes on mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) during hard and soft tissue wound healing.

“This topic of interest is important in the field of periodontology as wound healing of the hard and soft tissue is a critical component of numerous periodontal diseases that are often exacerbated by diabetes,” explains Dr. Ko. “I’m committed to a career in research and academics. The educational, technical, and career development training afforded by the K08 Award will greatly enable my path toward independence. I’m excited by this opportunity.”

“Dr. Ko is the type of student that Penn Dental Medicine is particularly proud of since he is able to successfully combine clinical practice and research,” adds Dr. Graves. “He has a wonderful opportunity through this award to jump start his academic career.”

The research Dr. Ko will undertake through the K08 Award will build upon his published work with Dr. Graves (Ko et al., Diabetologia 2015). Through the findings of their studies to date, they propose a central hypothesis that the activation of a master inflammatory transcription factor known as NF-κB in MSCs in diabetic conditions, negatively affects hard and soft tissue healing by reducing the number of MSCs and interfering with their anti-inflammatory function. Dr. Ko explains that going forward, they have three goals – to establish the important role of intrinsic NF-κB in regulating the number and function of MSCs during fracture and gingival wound healing under diabetic conditions; to investigate whether diabetes alters the regulation of genes associated with delayed healing and determine if this is reversed by inhibiting NF-κB activation in MSCs; and to determine whether NF-κB inhibitor is a novel treatment for diabetic fracture and gingival wound healing by improving MSC activities.

“Collectively, these studies will further our understanding of the mechanism underlying diabetic complications in hard and soft tissue wound healing,” says Dr. Ko. “Successful completion of this proposal may further offer an alternative therapeutic approach to consider in the treatment of non-healing diabetic wounds by targeting endogenous MSCs with specific NF-κB inhibitors.”

The research is supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health under award number K08DE027129.