The Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry — a new catalyst for cutting-edge innovation

Penn Engineering and Penn Dental Medicine have united to transform oral health care.

By Hannah Spector

Microrobots clear a glass plate of a biofilm. (Geelsu Hwang and Edward Steager)

The Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CiPD) launched on January 22nd with a virtual program to celebrate this new partnership. Their goals are two-fold: 1) Accelerate the discovery and translation of new therapies, diagnostics, and devices to address unmet needs in oral health, and 2) Train the next generation of leaders in oral-craniofacial research and oral health care innovation.

“There is an urgent need to innovate and find new affordable solutions for people who are susceptible to oral and craniofacial diseases.”

The center’s co-directors are Dr. Michel Koo, DDS, MS, PhD of Penn Dental Medicine and Kathleen Stebe, MSE, PhD of Penn Engineering. The two have been working together for over five years, and a 2018 workshop funded by the Vice Provost for Research was “the catalyst for the Center; after the workshop, we put together a task force which would become the core members of the CiPD,” says Koo.

Organ-on-a-chip technologies can be used to understand disease mechanisms and assess new therapies (Dan Huh lab)

“There is an urgent need to innovate and find new affordable solutions for people who are susceptible to diseases. If we can apply engineering to discover creative and novel ways to diagnose, treat and prevent, or understand why these populations suffer from oral and craniofacial diseases, this would be a major, transformative achievement,” says Koo.

Collaborative Research and Training

The Dental School and Penn Engineering have successfully collaborated in recent years, including developing a microscopic robotic cleaning crew in 2019. The team, led by Dr. Koo and Edward Steager, PhD of Penn Engineering, created microbe-killing robots for biofilm elimination. The work was published in Science Robotics and funded in part by Penn Health-Tech.

The Center is already advancing science across disciplines by bridging researchers and clinicians with engineers and data scientists working in cutting-edge fields. The Center’s cross-disciplinary research bridges Oral Craniofacial Sciences, Engineering, and Computational Sciences through a diverse range of investigational areas. “We currently have two ongoing projects related to COVID-19, as well as upcoming research studies ranging from drug delivery using nanoparticles to new diagnostic devices and using artificial intelligence and machine learning for big data analysis.”

The CiPD Training Program, expected to launch early July, will provide a creative, inclusive and diverse environment to train dentists, engineers, and scientists to address the unmet needs in oral & craniofacial health.

Entrepreneurship

Three primary partners of CiPD will be involved with joint funding and learning opportunities to promote entrepreneurship. The centers include Penn Health-Tech, which will co-sponsor grants, Penn Institute for Biomedical Informatics, which has established a fellowship for AI and machine learning in dentistry, and Penn Center for Innovation, which will co-sponsor a pitch competition open to students, residents, and postdoctoral fellows.

Micro-robots for automated biofilm treatment and removal. This time-lapsed image shows helicoid-shaped robot moving inside a tooth canal (Koo lab)

The CiPD is off to a strong start, and already has funding grants open for submission. Two of these grants are through the Penn Health-Tech and Center for Healthcare Innovation Call for Proposals, as part of their Health-Tech Design & Development program. The Innovation in Dental Medicine and Engineering to Advance Oral Health (IDEA) Prize is focused on supporting collaborative work at the dental medicine and engineering interface to develop new solutions to study, diagnose, prevent or treat oral diseases and craniofacial disorders, with up to $80,000 of funding. The Advancing Oral & Craniofacial Pilot Award is intended to accelerate the translation of engineering and computational approaches to address unmet needs in oral health, with up to $50,000 funding. Both programs are open to faculty within Penn Dental Medicine and Penn Engineering as well as other schools with secondary appointments. “The CiPD is thrilled to co-sponsor these grant programs,” says Koo, “they represent the true spirit of collaboration between dental medicine and engineering faculties that is the core mission of CiPD.”

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We unite Penn Medicine, Penn Engineering, and beyond to create transformative technologies that address the world’s pressing healthcare needs.

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We unite Penn Medicine, Penn Engineering, and beyond to create transformative technologies that address the world’s pressing healthcare needs.

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