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Joseph and Josephine Rabinowitz Award for Excellence in Research

The Joseph and Josephine Rabinowitz Award for Excellence in Research was designed to help Penn Dental Medicine faculty undertake pilot projects that will enable them to successfully apply for extramural sources of funding. Designed through the lens of a researcher, this ongoing grant evaluates research proposals for their scholarly merit, creativity and innovation; the significance of the research in advancing scientific knowledge; the prospects for future extramural funding; the availability of alternate funding sources; and in the case of junior faculty, evidence that the applicant will be working as an independent investigator and forwarding of the School’s research objectives. It was under development as early as 1994 with the first award presented in 2002.

This award was endowed through the generosity of the late Dr. Joseph “Jose” Rabinowitz, an active member of the School’s biochemistry faculty for 29 years, and his wife, the late Dr. Josephine “Josy,” a fellow Penn alum. Josy’s PhD was in the field of education. Her strong endorsement of education and research provided a hand in the development of this grant. Jose was known for his research in lipid and steroid biochemistry, and made the seminal discovery that HMG CoA was a key intermediate in cholesterol biosynthesis. His research helped lead to the development of the important class of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins.

The Rabinowitz family continues to support the values and priorities of this award. The 2021 recipients will be announced on Research Day, May 13, 2021 prior to the Joseph L. Rabinowitz Memorial Lecture.

Chenshuang Li, DDS, PhD
Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, Department of Orthodontics

Cleft lip and palate (CLP) is the second most common congenital malformations. Unfortunately, although CLP can be surgically repaired in childhood, residual deformities due to scarring and abnormal facial development lead to continuing functional and psychosocial problems. There is an urgent need to seek novel craniofacial tissue regenerative approaches in early CLP revision. However, currently available animal models all have their own disadvantages that significantly disqualify them as a proper animal CLP model for outcome assessment. Through the collaboration between the Department of Orthodontics and Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery/Pharmacology within the Penn Dental Medicine, and the participation of UCLA School of Dentistry, in the current proposal, we intend to establish a novel CLP model in young rodents to mimic the craniofacial growth deformation observe in CLP patients. Overall, this study aims to set up the foundation for exploring and unbiasedly assessing the outcomes of new regenerative strategies for CLP treatment. The generous support from the Joseph and Josephine Rabinowitz Award for Excellence in Research will allow us to collect the crucial pilot data to be used for a future interventional study on evaluating regenerative strategies for CLP treatment. If successful, it will pave the path to improve patients’ life quality, especially for growing ones, suffered from scarring-induced side effects.

Rahul Singh, PhD
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of Basic and Translational Sciences

This project aims to prevent dental plaque/biofilm formation and degradation by targeting virulent factors that are associated with cell surface integrity of the causative microbes, without affecting the overall microbial homeostasis in the oral cavity. Based on initial findings, this proposal will investigate novel molecular mechanisms responsible for anti-biofilm activity of the unexplored enzyme lipase and its development as a protein drug target. Lipase enzyme produced in antibiotic-free lettuce plants will be evaluated and formulated into the chewing gum for translational applications.

Cagla Akay-Espinoza, MD
Research Assistant Professor, Department of Basic and Translational Sciences

Both periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease are highly prevalent in aging populations. Initiated by oral microbiome, periodontal disease not only causes alveolar bone destruction via local inflammation but is also a source of systemic inflammation in untreated cases, which is a significant contributor to Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis. However, a causal relationship between these diseases, both of which are multifactorial, has not been established to date. We will develop a model of periodontal disease in an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model to test our hypothesis that systemic inflammation underlies a causal relationship between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease. This approach will be critical to understand the mechanistic link between the two diseases, identify genetic drivers at play, and develop predictive and diagnostic biomarkers, screening methods, and novel therapeutic approaches. Importantly, the pathogenesis underlying Alzheimer’s disease is predicted to initiate decades before the emergence of first symptoms and identifying presymptomatic high-risk individuals such as those with unresolved periodontal disease will significantly contribute to successful outcomes with early intervention.

Eugene Ko, DDS
Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Oral Medicine

Through a collaboration with Penn Dental Oral Medicine and the Wharton Business School, and with support from the Center for Clinical and Translational Research at Penn Dental, our study aims to assess a novel way to capture the behaviors, psychology, and pain symptoms of Burning Mouth Syndrome patients. Using a smartphone “app” to capture real-time data over an 8-week period, we aim to characterize the pain symptoms more accurately than relying on patient memory, and also to elucidate previously unknown environmental and behavioral factors that might influence the disease course. The Rabinowitz grant will allow us to collect this crucial pilot data to be used for a future interventional study on non-pharmacological management of this patient population.

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