Dr. Yuan Liu Advancing Understanding of Early Childhood Caries with Colgate Award for Research Excellence


Dr. Yuan Liu, Research Associate in the Department of Preventive & Restorative Sciences

Philadelphia – Penn Dental Medicine’s Dr. Yuan Liu, Research Associate in the Department of Preventive & Restorative Sciences, has been recognized for her research as a 2021 recipient of the Colgate Award for Research Excellence (CARE). Designed to advance oral healthcare diagnostics, therapeutics, and preventative strategies from basic to translational research, the CARE program targets the development of junior faculty by providing seed research funding to emerging leaders in academia. Dr. Liu was awarded $30,000 in support of a study titled “Oral Candida infection in infancy and early childhood caries,” selected based on innovation, clinical significance, originality, and scientific quality.

Established to recognize a new generation of academic researchers, the CARE program recipients are required to be in the first five years of their academic appointment. Dr. Liu, who is working with the School’s Center for Clinical and Translational Research with Dr. Pat Corby and part of research lab of Dr. Michel Koo, Professor, Department of Orthodontics and Divisions of Pediatric Dentistry & Community Oral Health, joined the full-time research faculty at Penn Dental Medicine in 2020, however, she has been conducting research at the School since 2014, when she joined the Koo lab as a postdoctoral researcher. Dr. Liu was also the inaugural recipient of the Colgate-Palmolive Pediatric Dentistry DScD Fellowship at Penn Dental Medicine in 2017, earning her DScD in 2019.

“Dr. Liu’s study into severe early childhood caries is significant and conceptually innovative,” says Dr. Koo. “This work may lead to a new paradigm for the etiology and pathogenesis of this severe disease impacting children worldwide.”

Globally, there are nearly 1.8 billion cases a year of early childhood caries (ECC) with severe ECC (S-ECC), particularly problematic as the disease progresses rapidly to the cavitation stage (within 6 to 12 months in some cases) with painful and costly consequences to toddlers.

Dr. Liu’s CARE program proposal was based on a recent discovery that oral thrush in infancy is strongly associated with ECC detection by pediatricians, especially at younger ages. “Early intervention is crucial,” says Dr. Liu. “Discovering S-ECC risk factors can allow pediatricians to identify high-risk patients who can then be referred to dentists for early prevention measures.”

“Our previous studies show a synergistic contribution of Candida albicans in forming highly pathogenic biofilms leading to rampant caries,” explains Dr. Liu. “This proposed longitudinal study will provide a much-needed insight on whether Candida infection can alter the biofilm (plaque) microbiome and contribute with the aggressive onset of this costly pediatric disease.”

Dr. Liu was also recognized for her research as the 2020 recipient of the IADR Women in Science Promising Talent Award.