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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 2022 recipients are announced on Research Day 2022 prior to the Joseph L. Rabinowitz Memorial Lecture.

Flavia Teles, DDS, MS, DMSc
Associate Professor, Department of Clinical and Translational Sciences

“Integrating Omics-Data via Deep Learning to Predict Periodontitis Progression”
Periodontitis is the most common cause of tooth loss among US adults. Further, it increases the risk for systemic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Thus, early identification of periodontitis and of high-risk individuals is critical. However, there are no practical means of doing so.

In this project we will use metagenomic sequencing to determine the subgingival microbiome of patients with severe periodontitis presenting advanced disease progression. Then, we will employ artificial intelligence approaches to devise biological disease classifications and predictive models of clinical outcomes by integrating existing longitudinal immunological, clinical and demographic data with the microbiological information.

Results from this project will support future NIH grant applications aiming at understanding identifying and predicting high risk for periodontitis, and development of more precise and efficient approaches to diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Yuan Liu, DDS, MS
Research Associate, Division of Restorative Dentistry, Department of Preventive & Restorative Sciences

“Association Between Early Candida Infection (Oral Thrush) and Severe Early Childhood Caries”
Severe early childhood caries (S-ECC) is a major public health problem characterized by dysbiotic oral microbial burden leading to a persistent and virulent biofilm on the teeth of toddlers that causes rampant tooth decay as well as hurts the general health. Emerging clinical evidence has spotlighted the potential role of Candida albicans in S-ECC. Furthermore, our retrospective study revealed that oral thrush (oropharyngeal candidiasis or OPC) detection in toddlers less than 12 months of age was strongly associated with the development of dental caries. However, only cross-sectional human studies have been performed thus far. Longitudinal studies are warranted to better assess the causal association between OPC and S-ECC in toddlers to determine the fungal role in caries. To address this, the proposed research will be focused on conducting a 2-year prospective longitudinal study to (1) investigate the association between early OPC and the onset and severity of S-ECC in a cohort of infants, and (2) evaluate the influence of OPC on the functional plaque microbiome of infants. The Rabinowitz award will allow us to perform a pilot study and collect data for future large-scale mechanistic clinical studies as well as develop novel strategies to prevent S-ECC from a fungal perspective.

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.

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