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Research Programs

Penn Dental Medicine Research ProgramsKey Research Areas

Following is an overview of Penn Dental Medicine’s leading research programs.

Advanced Therapeutics

Investigators are pursuing research focused on advanced therapeutics with the potential for bringing new treatment modalities to everything from dental caries and periodontal disease to diabetes and herpes.

  • Dr. Hyun (Michel) Koo is developing new therapeutic approaches to target biofilm at its core using synthetic as well as naturally occurring agents, including nanotechnology-based drug carriers and compounds in cranberries. View research profile »
  • Dr. Henry Daniell has developed a novel plant-based system that allows for the oral delivery of proteins and is effective in producing and delivering vaccines (for polio, tuberculosis, and malaria) and biopharmaceuticals to treat Alzheimer’s, diabetes, hypertension, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, and retinopathy. View research profile »
  • Dr. Dana Graves and colleagues are working with a slow release polymer that improves diabetic bone healing and could be used to treat a number of diseases where inflammation causes bone loss. View research profile »
  • Dr. George Hajishengallis is studying possible therapeutics for periodontal disease, having identified an inhibitor of a protein involved in immunity and inflammatory response that has reversed naturally occurring chronic periodontitis inflammation in a preclinical model. View research profile »
  • Dr. Gary Cohen research is focused on understanding the molecular events that mediate the entry of herpes simplex virus (HSV) into cells and promote its pathogenesis in its human host. Another goal is to develop a subunit vaccine against smallpox using proteins from vaccinia virus or from variola virus (smallpox).
  • Dr. Robert Ricciardi has developed a new technology that holds promise for producing antiviral drugs to combat such diseases as smallpox, herpes ocular keratitis, and a skin disease that largely affects children. To create a channel that can drive these antiviral drug discoveries in providing unmet medical needs, Dr. Ricciardi has founded Viraze, a biotechnology startup company.
  • Dr. Shuying (Sheri) Yang is contributing to an understanding of the molecular mechanisms of bone development, remodeling, and repair, using her insights to identify therapeutic targets to treat bone diseases such as osteoporosis and fracture.
  • Dr. Geelsu Hwang is applying engineering principles and tools to understand the pathogenesis of various biofilm-associated oral diseases and to develop therapeutic approaches.
  • Dr. Kyle Vining’s lab investigates immuno-mechanical regulation of inflammation in cancer and regeneration and is developing new approaches to mechanically control immune cell behavior

Periodontal Disease

Investigators pursue novel therapeutic approaches to both treat and prevent this persistent disease.

  • Dr. George Hajishengallis investigates the use of the DEL-1 glycoprotein to prevent and treat the onset of the disease through regulation of the inflammatory immune response.
  • Dr. Dana Graves explores the molecular mechanisms by which inflammation induces periodontal disease, interferes with bone formation and impairs fracture healing.
  • Dr. Joseph Fiorellini employs host-derived diagnostic markers related to soft tissue destruction and bone degradation induced by periodontitis along with molecular approaches for regrowing damaged tissue via regenerative periodontal therapy.
  • Dr. Bruce Shenker investigates the use of a bacterial immunotoxin as a pharmacologic agent for treating cancer and inflammatory disorders like periodontitis.
  • Dr. Esra Sahingur focuses on defining the role of immune and inflammatory pathways in periodontal disease pathogenesis, genetic and epigenetic susceptibility to periodontitis, and the link between oral and systemic diseases. Sahingur and her team initiated the studies that revealed the involvement of nucleic acid sensing and ubiquitination in periodontal disease pathogenesis and more recently the link between oral cavity, gut, and liver axis.
  • Dr. Kang Ko leads a NIH-funded research program that investigates fibroblast heterogeneity and its impact on immunity in the oral cavity and skin.
  • Dr. Flavia Teles’ work is dedicated to the identification and cultivation of new periodontal pathogens using state-of-the-art cultivation and molecular approaches.

Oral Mucosal Diseases & Bone Disorders

Investigators specialize in treating oral mucosal and bone and tissue disorders, especially those induced and/or exacerbated by conventional cancer therapies.

  • Dr. Anh Le investigates the use of human gingival-derived mesenchymal stem cells (GMSC) to treat oral mucositis induced by chemotherapy. She is also investigating the use of these stem cells to treat bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaw (BRONJ). View research profile »
  • Dr. Sunday Akintoye & Dr. Elliot Hersh examine how bisphosphonate drugs negatively affect bone density and impair oral health.
  • Dr. Thomas Sollecito develops novel oral drug delivery systems and mucoadhesive products for the treatment of mucosal disorders. He is also creating new treatment modalities for precancerous oral lesions, including leukoplakia and lichen planus/lichenoid mucositis. View research profile »
  • Dr. Eric Stoopler treats plasma cell disorders, multiple myeloma and oral mucosal toxicities caused by melphalan, a common chemotherapeutic agent.

Orofacial Pain & Radiography

  • Penn Dental Medicine is a pioneer in the field of complex dental pain disorders, ranging from TMD/TMJ, orofacial neuralgias and neuropathic pain. In 2012, Penn was designated by the NIH as a National Center of Excellence in Pain Education (in collaboration with Penn’s Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine & Nursing). Dr. Elliot Hersh is an expert in dental pain models and the pharmacologic management of oral pain. He has directed pivotal studies which led to FDA approval of myriad analgesic and anesthetic agents. He also develops guidelines for postsurgical pain, efficacy and tolerability and dose-ranging studies.
  • A specialist in radiography, Dr. Muralidhar Mupparapu’s special interest is in the utilization of information pertaining to the density values (Hounsfield number) and their reliability for the bone density measurements in the mandible and maxilla.

Advanced Dental Materials & Devices

The School regularly conducts industry-funded laboratory and clinical trials on advanced dental adhesives, cements, restorative and impression materials, biomaterials, advanced coatings, surface treatments and ceramics and employs advanced CAD/CAM technology.

  • Dr. Yu Zhang applies a background in physics and material science to advance the field of dental ceramics. View profile »
  • Dr. Markus Blatz investigates the clinical performance, efficacy and bond strength of new adhesives systems; the dimensional behavior and fracture tolerance of novel materials; and the biological behavior (cytotoxicity, bacterial adhesion) of restorative materials. View research profile »
  • Dr. Francis Mante explores the use of biomaterials to restore and replace teeth, elastromeric monomers to strengthen dental composites, and novel materials with antimicrobial properties to prevent secondary caries and infection.
  • Dr. Fusun Ozer employs new adhesive materials to increase the longevity of resin fillings and the use of resin adhesives to promote the healing of pulp tissue under deep cavities.
  • Dr. Sunday Akintoye studies biomimetic, calcium-silicate cements that support the differentiation of orofacial mesenchymal stem cells. He also uses beta-catenin to regenerate teeth.
  • Dr. Syngcuk Kim investigates root end filling materials with osteogenic properties to regenerate periapical bone and biomimetic mineralization and biceramic materials for root repair.
  • Dr. Kenneth Kent employs drag-reducing, anti-fouling coatings on the exposed components of implant restorations to reduce surface microbial colonization and improve oral hygiene.
  • Dr. Joseph Fiorellini explores the osseointegration of oral devices and implants, incorporating growth factors to regenerate structure and small molecule signaling and 3-D scaffold development to promote regeneration.
  • Dr. Kyle Vining’s lab develops next-generation dental biomaterials to bring regenerative medicine to restorative dentistry by employing new nanomaterials and triacrylate resin technologies.

Oral & Systemic Health

Penn Dental Medicine recognizes that oral health complications are often implicitly linked to systemic health..

  • Dr. Dana Graves explores the link between diabetes and complications that affect bone formation, fracture repair, periodontal disease and soft tissue healing.
  • Dr. Dana Graves & Dr. Joseph Fiorellini are testing an experimental, biodegradable polymeric pro-drug (NSAID) to reduce inflammation, eliminate bacteria and promote/accelerate bone formation in diabetic patients.
  • Dr. Temitope Omolehinwa is conducting research related to improving oral health outcomes in patients with HIV and other comorbidities on dental health.
  • Dr. Claire Mitchell uses physiological approaches to understand the mechanistic steps of disease.
  • Dr. Kelly Jordan-Sciutto investigates molecular mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration associated with neuroinflammation during HIV infection.
  • Dr. Hydar Ali studies Mast cells in host defense and chronic inflammatory diseases.

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