Penn Dental Medicine, Penn Engineering Award First IDEA Prize to Advance Oral Health Care Innovation


Dr. Henry Daniell, Penn Dental Medicine

Philadelphia – Penn Dental Medicine and Penn Engineering, which teamed earlier this year to launch the Center for Innovation and Precision Dentistry (CiPD), recently awarded the Center’s first IDEA (Innovation in Dental Medicine and Engineering to Advance Oral Health) Prize. Dr. Henry Daniell, W.B. Miller Professor and Vice Chair in the Department of Basic & Translational Sciences at Penn Dental Medicine, and his collaborator, Dr. Daeyeon Lee, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Penn Engineering, are the inaugural recipients, awarded the Prize for a project titled “Engineered Chewing Gum for Debulking Biofilm and Oral SARS-CoV-2.”

“The IDEA Prize was created to support Penn Dental and Penn Engineering collaboration, and this project exemplifies the transformative potential of this interface to develop new solutions to treat oral diseases,” says Dr. Michel Koo, Professor in the Department of Orthodontics and Divisions of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health at Penn Dental Medicine and Co-Director of the CiPD.

“The prize is an exciting opportunity to unite Drs. Lee and Daniell and their vision to bring together state-of-the-art functional materials and drug-delivery platforms,” adds Dr. Kathleen Stebe, CiPD Co-Director and Goodwin Professor of Engineering and Applied Science at Penn Engineering.

Open to faculty from Penn Dental Medicine and Penn Engineering, the IDEA Prize, to be awarded annually, supports collaborative teams investigating novel ideas using engineering approaches to kickstart competitive proposals for federal funding and/or private sector/industry for commercialization. Awardees are selected based on originality and novelty; the impact of the proposed innovation of oral/craniofacial health; and the team composition with complementary expertise. Indeed, the project of Drs. Daniell and Lee reflects all three.

The collaborative proposal combines Dr. Daniell’s novel plant-based drug development/delivery platform with Dr. Lee’s novel polymeric structures to create an affordable, long-lasting way to reduce dental biofilms (plaque) and oral SARS-CoV-2 transmission using a uniquely consumer-friendly delivery system — chewing gum.

“Oral diseases afflict 3.5 billion people worldwide, and many of these conditions are caused by microbes that accumulate on teeth, forming difficult to treat biofilms,” says Dr. Daniell. “In addition, saliva is a source of pathogenic microbes and aerosolized particles transmit disease, including COVID-19, so there is an urgent need to develop new methods to debulk pathogens in the saliva and decrease their aerosol transmission.”

With collaborators from Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine (Drs. Ronald Collman, Ping Wang, Michel Milone), Penn Vet (Dr. Ronald Harty), and Penn Dental Medicine (Dr. Robert Ricciardi), as well as Fraunhofer (Stephen Streatfield) for commercial scale production, the Daniell laboratory investigators (Smruti Nair, Nardana Esmaeili, Geetanjali Wakade, Reyazul Islam) have already created chewing gum containing the ACE2 enzyme, demonstrating ACE2 could trap SARS-CoV-2 virus in the chewing gum and prevent entry into human cells. “Advancing to the clinic should help to not only reduce viral infection but also prevent oral transmission,” says Dr. Daniell.

In addition, Dr. Daniell’s lab, in collaboration with Dr. Koo’s lab, has been conducting studies that show promise in disrupting biofilms and reducing bacterial/fungal accumulation in the dental plaque, using his plant-based platform to produce lipase, dextranase, and mutanase to debulk biofilms and chewing gum as the delivery system. This work was published recently in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Dr. Daniell has employed his innovative platform to grow biomedically important proteins and enzymes of many kinds in the leaves of plants. The system works by physically bombarding plant tissue with the genes of interest, prompting chloroplasts into taking up genes and then stably expressing that protein or enzyme. The plants can then be grown, harvested, dried, and processed, resulting in a powder that can be placed in a capsule, or in this case, a chewing gum.

Dr. Daeyeon Lee, Penn Engineering

“One of the key challenges in delivering bioactive substances such as enzymes in the oral cavity is that they are cleared rather rapidly; thus, repeated and frequent applications are often necessary to reap the benefit of the actives,” explains Dr. Lee. “One of the major aims of this work will be formulating chewing gum with novel polymeric structures to enhance the retention of the enzymes in the oral cavity.”

“There is an urgent need to develop precise and affordable, over-the-counter therapeutic solutions,” adds Dr. Daniell. “We are excited by the potential for these revolutionary affordable solutions for long-lasting, at-home oral healthcare and prevention.”