Philadelphia — The work of two Penn Dental Medicine postgraduate researchers has been recognized by the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) with Dr. Aurea Simon-Soro named the recipient of the 2020 IADR Oral Health Research Young Investigators Travel Award and Dr. Yuan Liu (GD’19) honored with the 2020 IADR Women in Science Promising Talent Award. Both women are part of the research lab of Dr. Hyun (Michel) Koo, Professor in the Department of Orthodontics and Divisions of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health at Penn Dental Medicine.
“Yuan and Aurea are perfect examples of perseverance, dedication and creative thinking of women in science,” says Dr. Koo. “They are true talents, who I am sure will be superstars in the field of dental and craniofacial research”
The Oral Health Research Young Investigator Travel Award is open to predoctoral students, postdoctoral students, and students who are in a certified dental hygiene program who have an accepted abstract in Oral Health Research and would be presenting the abstract themselves at the IADR General Session. Selection is based on originality, scientific rigor, and potential impact on global oral health. The award is meant to help cover travel to and accommodations at the General Session (With the cancellation of the 2020 IADR General Session due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IADR Oral Health Group has offered to support travel to the 2021 IADR General Session in Chengdu, China, through this award.)
Presently in the Biomedical Postdoctoral Program at Penn (her second PhD program at Penn), Dr. Simon-Soro has been conducting research within the Koo lab for three years, applying her skills in bioinformatics, microbiome analysis, and biofilm imaging.
She was selected for a study that investigated an animal model that looked at modifications of microbiota related to oral disease and therapeutic intervention, examining specific microbiota composition and changes at different body sites. “We employed a host oral infection rat model using suspended cages to investigate the gastrointestinal microbiota,” explains Dr. Simon-Soro. “We also assessed the impact of topical oral applications of a repurposed FDA-approved drug thonzonium bromide (TB) to acquire new knowledge about shared and unique microbiota related to topical drug treatment and its effects from local (oral) to distant (gut) body sites.”
She found a well-defined and distinctive site-specific microbiota in the animal model, mirroring the characteristics found in the human microbiome across different body sites. The TB applications substantially perturbed the local oral microbiota based on oral swab and dental plaque analysis, while no impact on the fecal bacterial community was observed, indicating localized microbiota disturbances may not necessarily inflict major changes of the distant microbiomes.
“Our findings demonstrate a robust animal model for site-specific assessment of the gastrointestinal microbiome and provide a novel and comprehensive computational pipeline for oral-gut microbiome assessment,” adds Dr. Simon-Soro.
The Women in Science Promising Talent Award recognizes young members of the IADR Women in Science Network who are dedicated to research as part of their postdoctoral training. Dr. Liu completed her DScD at Penn Dental Medicine in 2019 (and also holds an MS, a certificate in pediatric dentistry, and a PhD) and has been conducting research in Dr. Koo’s lab since 2014. Her research focuses on understanding the relationship between biofilms and dental caries and seeking novel therapeutic strategies to control cariogenic biofilms.
“Over the years, I have developed a keen interest and passion for understanding the pathogenic mechanisms of dental caries, especially early childhood caries,” says Dr. Liu. “It’s been exciting to help advance the knowledge about the microbial role in caries pathogenesis, while also developing novel therapeutic strategies to combat cariogenic biofilms.”
Among those advances, her work with polymicrobial biofilms helped define a new role for Candida albicans in the etiopathogenesis of severe childhood caries, while also identifying potential fungal biomarkers associated with caries severity. She also has been working on low-cost biotechnology- and nanotechnology-based approaches to precisely target cariogenic biofilms.
“Ultimately, my career goal is to translate cost-effective and practical technologies from bench to clinical applications for caries diagnosis and prevention in susceptible children population,” says Dr. Liu, “while at the same time, bring research ideas from clinical practice to the bench to promote better understanding of the pathogenic mechanisms of cariogenic biofilms.”
Drs. Liu and Simon-Soro were both previously recognized for their research by the American Association for Dental Research (AADR) and the IADR. Dr. Liu was awarded second place (post-doctoral category) in the 2018 AADR Hatton Awards and Dr. Simon-Soro was the 2019 recipient of the IADR Women in Science Award for Distinguished Research.