Penn Dental Medicine’s Dr. Henry Daniell among the Game Changers Presenting at TEDxPenn


Philadelphia — Penn Dental Medicine’s Dr. Henry Daniell, W.D. Miller Professor in the Department of Basic and Translational Sciences, was among ten game changers invited to present at the TEDxPenn conference, held Saturday, April 1. The conference, now in its 11th year, had the theme (R)evolution. Exploring the tension and interplay between the steady progress of evolution and the dramatic change of revolution, the speakers each shared insight into their life’s work in under 15 minutes with a crowd of close to 1,000, filling Zellerbach Theatre at the Annenberg Center.

“The beauty of a TED talk is that they can be on any subject whatsoever, but they all aim for the same place: They want their listeners to come away saying, ‘I didn’t know that, I’ve never thought about it that way before,’” said President Liz Magill during the conference’s opening remarks. “Learning something new, gaining an evolutionary insight or acquiring a revolutionary perspective, this is why we come to TED talks.”

Dr. Daniell talked on the patented plant-based platform he developed to generate a range of biomolecules with both therapeutic and commercial potential. By bombarding plant material (lettuce) with the DNA of target proteins, they coax the plant chloroplasts to take up the DNA and begin growing the proteins. The plant material, freeze-dried and ground-up, could be used as a means of delivering the protein.

Daniell presented on one of his projects that is currently in clinical trials — a unique chewing gum designed to trap SARS-CoV-2 in the saliva, potentially blocking transmission of COVID-19 from one person to another. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the proteins his lab had explored was ACE2, originally with a view toward evaluating its impact on pulmonary hypertension. As the pandemic began, ACE2 began receiving significant attention for a different reason: its receptor provides the docking station for the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. Suddenly, Daniell’s work had found a new potential application: as a trap for the virus that causes COVID-19. In effect, the gum is designed to trap and neutralize SARS-CoV-2 in the saliva and, ideally, diminish the amount of virus left in the mouth. It is hoped that less virus would mean a lower likelihood of passing the infection on to others.

The entire TEDxPenn event was organized and produced by a team of about 40 students—mostly undergraduates—at Penn.

In addition to Dr. Daniell, the other speakers included:

  • Penn Engineering doctoral student Devin Carroll, an expert in robot design using found materials;
  • Anthony Russo, a leading director in the entertainment industry, who shared insight into his career path and even a glimpse at some of his upcoming work;
  • Steve Gross, the founder of the nonprofit Life is Good Playmaker Project, who talked about the power of optimism;
  • Christopher Tucker, the author of “A Planet of 3 Billion,” who discussed population, demographics, the Earth, and the destiny of mankind;
  • Peikun Shi, an artist and filmmaker, who told a powerful story about how art can be used as a beacon of inspiration for those in mental distress;
  • Ala Stanford, a surgeon and national leader in health equity, who dove into access to health care;
  • Jordan Harris, a Pennsylvania representative who gave a glimpse into the Clean Slate law, which has sealed the records for millions of Pennsylvanians, giving them a second chance;
  • Lyn Godley, a multimedia artist and professor who showcased how she merges art and technology in a way to positively impact viewers; and
  • Shahd Batal, a digital storyteller with a focus on authenticity.

The presentations will be available for viewing on the TEDx YouTube channel at a later date.