Penn Dental Medicine faculty member Yuan Liu and postdoctoral fellow Zhi Ren have been recognized for their excellence in research, recently receiving top awards from the American Association for Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research (AADOCR) and the International Association for Dental Research (IADR). The awards were presented as part of the AADOCR/IADR/Canadian Association for Dental Research (CADR) General Session, held virtually in July.
IADR Joseph Lister Award for New Investigators
Yuan Liu, a research associate in the division of restorative dentistry, is the 2021 recipient of the IADR Joseph Lister Award for New Investigators. An annual IADR award supported by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., this award recognizes young investigators with original research in oral disease prevention or oral health promotion.
Through her research as part of the lab of Michel Koo in the department of orthodontics and divisions of community oral health and pediatric dentistry, Dr. Liu is working to understand caries etiopathology and develop novel anti-caries approaches. Among her recent areas of study is a new bi-functional nanotechnology (termed nanohybrid) combining natural enzymes with catalytic nanoparticles that can precisely disrupt cariogenic biofilms and prevent caries onset.
“Through this nanohybrid system, we would like to introduce a concept of exploiting the natural settings found in pathological conditions (high sugar and acidic pH) to trigger self-generating chemical weapons used by commensals to fight against pathogenic bacteria to deter cariogenic biofilm establishment,” said Dr. Liu.
2021 AADOCR and IADR Hatton Awards
Zhi Ren has the unique distinction of being a double winner of the 2021 Hatton Awards in the AADOCR and the IADR. The Hatton Awards are IADR’s longest-running and the most competitive award that recognizes outstanding young dental researcher talents. The IADR Hatton Competition is designed to provide an opportunity for the best junior investigators from all IADR divisions and sections around the globe to present their research at the annual IADR General Session. Dr. Ren was one of the winners of the AADOCR Hatton Award, which qualified him to compete against worldwide competitors at the IADR Hatton Competition, where he won again, representing the IADR American Division (AADOCR).
As a dentist-scientist, Dr. Ren joined the lab of Michel Koo at Penn Dental Medicine in 2019 as a postdoctoral fellow. His research focuses on understanding how bacterial and fungal pathogens interact in the oral cavity to form a sticky plaque (biofilm) on teeth, which gives rise to early childhood caries (ECC), severe tooth decay that affects millions of children worldwide. In his recent project, for which he received the AADOCR and IADR Hatton Awards, Dr. Ren discovered a new microbial consortium naturally present in the saliva of children who have ECC, where the fungi and bacteria behave as a single unit, acting in concert to protect themselves from antimicrobials and to strengthen their ability to initiate disease-causing biofilms.
“It is incredibly difficult to win both the AADOCR and the IADR Hatton Awards; [Dr. Ren] may be the first postdoc fellow from Penn Dental Medicine to achieve this,” said Dr. Koo. “Kudos to Zhi for his creative mind, hard-work, and great presentation skills.”