Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry Welcomes New Cohort of Postdoctoral Fellows


Philadelphia — With one of its key missions to develop a new generation of scientists at the interface of dental medicine and engineering, the Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CiPD) has selected a new class of fellows for its NIDCR T90/R90 Postdoctoral Training Program. This is the second group of trainees in the program, which was established in 2021 through a $2.5 million T90/R90 grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).

“Through this program, we’re creating a culture between these two fields to help develop collaborations and creative strategies to advance oral health care innovations that are effective, precise and affordable,” says Dr. Michel Koo, Co-Founding Director of CiPD. “Our first class advanced some tremendous research that led to numerous awards and recognitions nationwide as well as a K99/R00 Dentist Scientist Pathway to Independence grant from the NIDCR. We are looking forward to the same with the talented group of trainees entering the program.”

The NIDCR T90/R90 Postdoctoral Training Program aims to specifically focus on developing engineering solutions applied to the oral microbiome, host immunity, and tissue regeneration, each of which ties into different aspects of oral health, from tooth decay and periodontal disease to the needs of head and neck cancer patients.

As part of the two-year training, each postdoc will receive co-mentorship from faculty at both Penn Dental Medicine and Penn Engineering in conjunction with a career development committee of clinicians, basic scientists, as well as engineers.

The four members of this new class include the following:

Hagar Kenawy, PhD

Dr. Hagar Kenawy graduated from Lafayette College in 2017 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering in addition to an International Studies/Spanish A.B. degree. After her post-baccalaureate year at Virginia Tech, where she worked with Dr. Aaron Goldstein, she pursued a biomedical engineering PhD. Kenawy recently completed her PhD at Columbia University under the mentorships of Dr. Nadeen Chahine and Dr. Clark Hung in musculoskeletal research and is now a postdoctoral fellow in the Bioengineering and Biomaterials Bio2 lab under the mentorship of Dr. Riccardo Gottardi at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute. Through the CiPD NIDCR T90 Postdoctoral Training Program, she will be exploring emerging therapies for temporomandibular joint disease and/or cleft palate repair with her co-mentor and advisor from Penn Dental Medicine, Dr. Eric Granquist, Associate Professor of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery.

Smruti Nair, MDS, MS, PhD

Dr. Smruti Nair received her Master of Dental Surgery (MDS) in Periodontics and a Master of Science (MS) in Biomedical Engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo. In her Master’s program, she engineered a tunable biomaterial – gelatin-based colloidal gel by modulating electrostatic interaction-based assembly, which could influence endothelial cell organization during vascular network formation. Nair recently completed the Doctor of Science in Dentistry (DScD) program under the mentorship of Dr. Henry Daniell in the Department of Basic & Translational Sciences at Penn Dental Medicine. During her doctoral program, she was engaged in developing an FDA-compliant clinical drug product (ACE2 chewing gum) for regulatory approval. Nair’s research focuses on developing novel, affordable drug delivery platforms to limit infection and transmission of oral pathogens. “It is not only the science and technology, but the cornerstone of research, which is service to mankind in its most affordable form and overcoming issues like healthcare inequity that inspires me,” says Nair. “This fellowship is unique since it offers an array of extraordinary opportunities to researchers who wish to look beyond the world of academia and pursue a career in industry R&D.”  Her mentors for the fellowship program will be Dr. Daniell and Dr. Koo of Penn Dental Medicine and Dr. Daeyeon Lee at Penn Engineering.

Zain Siddiqui, PhD

Dr. Zain Siddiqui received his PhD from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) under the mentorship of Prof. Vivek Kumar, where he developed an angiogenic peptide hydrogel to regenerate vascularized pulp-like tissue in small and large animal models. As a CiPD NIDCR T90 Postdoctoral Fellow, he is part of Dr. Michael Mitchell’s lab in the Bioengineering Department at Penn Engineering.  Siddiqui’s research focus within CiPD — in conjunction with Mitchell and Kyle Vining in Penn Dental Medicine’s Department of Preventive & Restorative Sciences — is in the development of a hybrid biomaterials strategy to encourage dental pulp regeneration by leveraging the mRNA delivery potential of lipid nanoparticles with hydrogels to facilitate bio-integration and soft-tissue regeneration. Outside of research, he has taken an active role in educating the next generation of biomedical engineers as the instructor of a cell and biomaterial engineering laboratory course at NJIT and guest lecturing in the engineering biotechnology course at Penn. Ultimately, Siddiqui intends to become an independent academic research investigator contributing to the fields of bioengineering, dental medicine, and drug delivery.

Mousa Younesi, PhD

Dr. Mousa Younesi earned his PhD in biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, where he delved into the intricate world of tissue regeneration, particularly in designing biomimetic constructs for cartilage and connective tissue regeneration. In 2019, Younesi joined the “BIOLines Lab” of Dr. Dan Huh at the University of Pennsylvania, a leading figure in the field of organ-on-chip technology. As a trainee in the lab, he is working to develop: a mouth-on-a-chip model for the study of oral fungal/bacterial infections; a vascularized bone-on-a-chip model for bone developmental study and regenerative applications; and a vascularized an eye-on-a-chip model for disease modeling. Through the CiPD NIDCR T90 Postdoctoral Training Program, in collaboration with Dr. Koo’s lab, he is developing a physiologically relevant “mouth-on-a-chip” microfluidic system. The model is comprised of a vascularized gingival epithelial tissue with compositionally relevant micro-teeth in a microfluidic setup to study fungal and bacterial interactions with immune cells entering via an underlying vascular network, and saliva flow via a separate set of microfluidic channels. With a precise control over number, composition, and location of microbial infection along with modulatory saliva flow, this platform will provide oral health and microbiology researchers with a tool that enables them to accurately investigate the interaction of gingival tissues with oral microbiome, their disease states, and immune reaction to infections.