Dr. Hyun (Michel) Koo, Professor of Orthodontics and Pediatrics/Community Oral Health, has been selected an Emerging Inventor of the Year by the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI), who is being credited for his pioneering work in establishing unique techniques to remove biofilms. Dr. Koo’s research on biofilms led to a U.S. patent that was given early this year, as well as pending patent applications that are part of the same patent family being worked on in partnership with Penn Medicine and Penn Engineering, based on the initial patent given.
“In the summer of 2013, Michel came to Penn with a deep research program focused on understanding, managing, and eliminating biofilm, in particular the biofilm that forms in our mouths and contributes to cavities,” said PCI Director of Licensing Melissa Kelly, as she presented him with an award as part of PCI’s Celebration of Innovation, which was held digitally December 2nd. Over the course of his time here, he has constructed a strong portfolio of innovations, which was the foundation for the granted patent that he is receiving accolades for. To start, this will be the first of many more to appear.
For their patentable work, which was done in partnership with Dr. David Cormode of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, Koo’s team developed a revolutionary nanoparticle technique that is used to efficiently manage extremely aggressive dental biofilms (known as plaque) that cause severe pediatric tooth decay, a serious public health concern both in the United States and internationally. Over one-third of children today are plagued by serious tooth decay, and this is especially prevalent in poorer populations. Dr. Koo shared his excitement about the potential of nanoparticle technology by saying, “What is so fascinating about this technique is that it is both very accurate and cost-effective.” By using iron oxide nanoparticles, it is possible to specifically target pathogenic dental biofilms that cause serious cavities without disturbing the beneficial microbiota. To make a further point, he says that they are easy to build and cost pennies to create, which allows them to be both economical and sustainable. Delivery through a mouth rinse would allow for the nanoparticles to be dispersed.
Additionally, Dr. Koo — working in conjunction with Penn Engineering’s Dr. Kathleen J. Stebe, Dr. Edward Steager, and Dr. Vijay Kumar — is creating portable biofilm cleaning devices employing the same nanotechnology for disinfection and biofilm removal from dental and medical implants. It only illustrates how collaborative work with both the Science and Engineering departments at Penn, and the financial backing provided by the university’s PCI initiative, may provide novel solutions to overcome a longstanding clinical issue that is almost impossible to cure through traditional means. Specifically, Melissa has made invaluable contributions in interacting with appropriate individuals and brokering relationships to bring the technology forward, notes Dr. Koo, who has championed a joint endeavor with the School of Engineering to establish the Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CiPD). The new effort is slated to begin in January 2021. He will serve as the Director of the new Center in partnership with Dr. Stebe.
One of five unique honors offered as part of PCI’s Celebration of Innovation, an annual event honoring the year’s patent grantees at Penn, was a 2015 presentation of the Emerging Inventor of the Year award given to Dr. Koo. During the program there were over 80 beneficiaries of patents from FY20 who had gathered for the event, with two additional academics from Penn Dental Medicine — Dr. Henry Daniell, W.D. Miller Professor, Department of Basic & Translational Sciences (who was recognized for having issued four patents) and Dr. George Hajishengallis, Thomas W. Evans Centennial Professor, Department of Basic & Translational Sciences (awarded one patent). Another major part of the event was the keynote lecture given by Dr. Jonathan Epstein, Executive Vice Dean and Chief Scientific Officer, Perelman School of Medicine. In conclusion, the opportunity for this award was made possible by the continued commitment and enthusiasm of the Penn Dental Medicine leadership, along with the eagerness and enthusiasm of schools across campus to collaborate and innovate, which are further nurtured by PCI and its leaders, Dr. Koo notes. It is becoming evident that the Power of Penn has never been greater.