CiPD-Colgate Fellowship Advancing Research, Supporting Rising Clinician Scientists


Philadelphia – The  Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CiPD)-Colgate Fellowship is advancing research and continuing to support the development of clinicians scientists at Penn Dental Medicine. Since its launch in 2017, there have been four recipients of the Fellowship.  Funded by the Colgate-Palmolive Company, the Fellowship provides financial support to students engaged in postdoctoral research studies at Penn Dental Medicine and Penn Engineering focused on childhood dental caries and novel anti-biofilm approaches to promote oral health.

“We are thrilled to be able to advance the training of these postdoctoral researchers and the the CiPD mission through this fellowship,” says Dr. Hyun (Michel) Koo, Co-Director of the CiPD, Penn Dental Medicine’s collaborative center with Penn Engineering. “Our awardees have been engaged in exciting cross-disciplinary work to generate new knowledge and oral health care applications.”

Dr. Yuan Liu

Dr. Yuan Liu, who was the inaugural awardee in 2017, is now a full-time member of the Penn Dental Medicine faculty, appointed July 1, 2023 as an Instructor in the Division of Pediatric Dentistry. She was also recently awarded an NIH Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award, which supports the career development of investigators who have made a commitment to focus their research endeavors on patient-oriented research, providing support for supervised study and research for clinically trained professionals who have the potential to develop into productive, clinical investigators.

Among recent competitive grant awards, Dr. Liu received the Penn Medicine-CHOP Microbiome Program Pilot and Feasibility Award, designed to facilitate research across the Penn campus on understanding the microbiome and altering its composition and activity to improve health. In addition, she received the 2022 Joseph and Josephine Rabinowitz Award from Penn Dental Medicine for a project titled “Association Between Early Candida Infection (Oral Thrush) and Severe Early Childhood Caries (ECC).” And in 2021, she was recognized for her research in oral disease prevention with the IADR Joseph Lister Award for New Investigators, and was also a 2021 recipient of the Colgate Award for Research Excellence (CARE) for her study “Oral Candida infection in infancy and early childhood caries.

Dr. Zhi Ren

The other past Colgate Fellow (2019-2021), Dr. Zhi Ren, is in the inaugural cohort of fellows in the CiPD NIDCR T90/R90 Postdoctoral Training Program. He was recognized for his research activities this year by the American Association for Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research (AADOCR), taking first place in the Fives-Taylor Award at the AADOCR Mini Symposium for Young Investigators.  In his award-winning study, titled “Interkingdom Assemblages in Saliva Display Group-Level Migratory Surface Mobility,” Dr. Ren discovered that bacteria and fungi naturally present in the saliva of toddlers with severe decay can form superorganisms able to move and rapidly spread on tooth surfaces.

Last year, he was awarded the 2022 American Society for Microbiology (ASM)’s Early Career Symposium (ECS) Best Presentation Award.  Dr. Ren was among the nine finalists pre-selected to present their research at the pre-conference ECS session,  where he won and was invited to present again during the main conference. And in 2021, he had the unique distinction of being a double winner of both the 2021 Hatton Awards in the AADOCR and the IADR. As one of the winners of the AADOCR Hatton Award, Dr. Ren qualified to compete against worldwide competitors at the IADR Hatton Competition, where he won again representing the IADR American Division (AADOCR). In the research for which he received the Hatton Awards, Dr. Ren discovered a new microbial consortium naturally present in the saliva of children that have ECC, where the fungi and bacteria behave as a single unit, acting in concert to protect themselves from antimicrobials and to strengthen their ability to initiate disease-causing biofilms.

Among his published papers was one in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2022 that was highlighted by NIH NIDCR News & by the Scientific America magazine, and another in Nature Communications this year.

“I truly believe these outcomes among the Colgate Fellows are a clear testament that industry and academia can work together to make a huge and transformative impact for the future generation of clinician scientists,” says Dr. Koo.

2023 Awardees

The latest recipients of the Fellowship are Drs. Sunghee Lee and Zhenting Xiang, who will receive this multi-year support of their research and study.

Sunghee Lee

Dr. Lee, who received her B.S. and Ph.D. in Chemistry and Nanoscience from Ewha Woman’s University in South Korea, is currently a postdoctoral researcher in Penn Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Daeyeon Lee, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Dr. Koo, here at Penn Dental Medicine. During her postdoctoral research, she hopes to apply her experience in chemistry and nanoscience to develop applications of nanomaterials in dental medicine. As a CiPD-Colgate Fellow, she will work on developing new biomaterials and drug-delivery systems for dental biofilm prevention and therapeutic interventions against biofilm-associated oral diseases.

“The CiPD-Colgate Fellowship is a great opportunity to apply my chemical approaches to drug-delivery systems, develop clinically translatable solutions, and help advance oral health care innovations,” says Dr. Lee

Zhenting Xiang

Dr. Xiang, who earned her Ph.D. in Oral Microbiology and DMD in Endodontics in China, joined Penn Dental Medicine in 2021 as a postdoctoral researcher. Her research focuses on understanding the pathogenesis of severe childhood caries and seeking novel therapeutic strategies. As a CiPD-Colgate Fellow, she will incorporate high-throughput multi-omics, tissue engineering, and real-time spatial imaging approaches to study how bacterial-fungal interactions shape the biofilm community and host responses to modulate virulence.

“I am excited about the challenges of becoming a dentist-scientist and am fully committed to an academic career dedicated to caries research in the susceptible children population,” says Dr. Xiang.