Dr. Michel Koo Named Emerging Inventor of the Year by Penn Center for Innovation


Dr. Hyun (Michel) Koo, Professor of Orthodontics and Pediatrics/Community Oral Health

Philadelphia – Penn Dental Medicine’s Dr. Hyun (Michel) Koo, Professor of Orthodontics and Pediatrics/Community Oral Health, has been named Emerging Inventor of the Year by the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI), recognized for his groundbreaking work on developing novel approaches to eradicate biofilms. Dr. Koo’s work on biofilms led to a U.S. patent awarded early this year, with additional patent applications pending in collaboration with Penn Medicine and Penn Engineering based on this first patent family.

“When Michel came to Penn in 2013, he brought a robust research program directed at understanding, controlling, and eradicating biofilm, particularly the biofilm which occurs in our mouths and leads to cavities,” said PCI Director of Licensing Melissa Kelly, when presenting his award as part of PCI’s Celebration of Innovation, held virtually December 2. “Since his arrival, he has built an extensive portfolio of technologies, the first of which has led to the issued patent that is the subject of this award. The first, I expect, of many more to come.”

Koo’s patented work, in collaboration with Penn Medicine’s Dr. David Cormode, involved the development of a novel nanoparticle technology to effectively control highly virulent dental biofilms (known as plaque) that cause severe childhood tooth decay, a major public health problem both in the U.S. and worldwide. Today, one in three children suffers from severe tooth decay globally, particularly affecting impoverished families.

“What is exciting about this nanoparticle technology is that it is both highly precise and low-cost,” said Dr. Koo.

The iron oxide nanoparticles can precisely target pathogenic dental biofilms that cause severe cavities without affecting the healthy microbiome. More importantly, he explains, they are simple to make and cost pennies to produce, making it an affordable and sustainable treatment. The nanoparticles could be delivered via a mouth rinse.

In addition, Dr. Koo — working in collaboration with Penn Engineering’s Dr. Kathleen J. Stebe, Dr. Edward Steager, and Dr. Vijay Kumar as well as Penn Health Tech — is now developing portable biofilm cleaning devices using the same nanotechnology for disinfection and biofilm removal from dental and medical implants.

“It just shows how collaborations with Medicine and Engineering, together with Penn’s PCI support, can lead to completely new ways to address a persisting clinical problem that sometimes cannot be solved in conventional ways. In particular, Melissa has been exceptionally helpful connecting with right people and mediating partnerships to move this technology forward,” adds Dr. Koo, who has also spearheaded a collaborative initiative with the School of Engineering to create the Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CiPD), set to launch in January 2021. He will be the co-Director of the new Center with Dr. Stebe.

“Michel exemplifies the spirit of collaboration at Penn by actively collaborating with talented individuals from across various disciplines,” added John Swartley, PCI’s Managing Director. “As a result, we thought he was an ideal recipient of the Emerging Inventor of the Year award and we look forward to seeing Michel revolutionize the field of oral healthcare.”

Dr. Koo’s Emerging Inventor of the Year award was one of five special awards presented as part of PCI’s Celebration of Innovation, an annual event recognizing the year’s patent recipients across Penn. There were more than 80 patent recipients from FY20 honored at this year’s program, including two other faculty from Penn Dental Medicine — Dr. Henry Daniell, W.D. Miller Professor, Department of Basic & Translational Sciences (awarded 4 patents) and Dr. George Hajishengallis, Thomas W. Evans Centennial Professor Department of Basic & Translational Sciences (awarded one patent). The program also featured a keynote address by Dr. Jonathan A. Epstein, Executive Vice Dean and Chief Scientific Officer, Perelman School of Medicine.

“This award was only possible because of the amazing support of the Penn Dental Medicine leadership and the openness of Penn schools across the campus for collaboration and innovation, all of which is further galvanized by PCI and its leaders,” adds Dr. Koo. “The Power of Penn has never been clearer.”

View PCI’s Celebration of Innovation program >>