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Marian Ackun-Farmmer receives AfterCollege Engineering Student Scholarship

Thursday, February 9, 2017

student with pipet

Marian Ackun-Farmmer

Marian Ackun-Farmmer, a biomedical engineering student in the lab of Danielle Benoit, is the recipient of an AfterCollege Engineering Student Scholarship. Founded in 1999, AfterCollege, Inc. is an online professional platform that connects students, faculty, alumni and employers through customized career networks at colleges and professional organizations across the country. AfterCollege has awarded more than $1,000,000 in scholarships and student activities through our program to date. Congratulations, Marian!

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Ken Sims of Benoit Lab receives NRSA funding

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sims

Ken Sims

Ken Sims, a PhD student working in the lab of Danielle Benoit, has received funding from the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (RRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship program (F31).

His project is titled, "Engineered pH-Responsive Nanoparticle Drug Delivery to Inhibit Oral Biofilm Formation," and addresses the issue of tooth decay, which affects over two-thirds of children and nearly all adults worldwide and results in billions of dollars of direct and indirect healthcare costs each year. Most current treatment options involve topically applied drugs that provide little to no protection against tooth decay. The study will focus on designing a drug delivery system capable of penetrating dental plaque and releasing antibacterial drugs specifically where cavities develop: the acid covered tooth enamel surface. This research may lead to a new promising, clinically relevant therapeutic approach to prevent tooth decay and other oral diseases.

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Teamwork toward a ‘Perfect Bullet’ for Leukemia

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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Imagine that a drug is “oil” and the human body is “water.” A conduit would be needed to steer cancer drugs through the body to selectively target cancer cells, wherever they reside.

If a budding Wilmot Cancer Institute investigation pans out, a nanoparticle-based delivery system might be exactly the conduit that scientists have been looking for, the trio of young researchers say.

Danielle Benoit, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Rudi Fasan, Ph.D., associate professor of Chemistry, and Ben Frisch, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, Hematology/Oncology, are working together to improve the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), one of the deadliest types of blood cancers because it often relapses after initial therapy.

They each bring a different scientific discipline and a distinct role to the project. Fasan develops new drugs and new methods to make them more effective. In this case, he discovered and modified a small-molecule anti-cancer drug derived from a natural plant source related to the magnolia tree. After testing several different chemical forms of the compound, he is studying the correct potency and ability to precisely destroy cancer cells.

Professor Benoit’s nano-delivery system can transcend the barriers that sometimes prevent drugs from reaching their target. Nanoparticles are microscopic materials that act as a bridge between different structures—in this case the nanoparticles are designed to encapsulate an oily drug compound and make it more compatible with the body’s water. Her system also packages the drug with peptides (amino acids) that direct the treatment into the bone marrow, where leukemia takes root.

Getting to the root of the disease is important. Years ago, scientists discovered that leukemia most likely relapses because a subset of cells, known as leukemia stem cells, can dodge standard chemotherapy. Mature leukemia stem cells hide in the bone marrow in a quiet state, until they resurge. Wiping out these stem cells is the key to improving the treatment for a disease that can be very aggressive.

So far, scientists have not been able to target leukemia stem cells directly in the bone marrow, says Frisch, who studies the bone marrow environment for clues as to why blood cancers flourish there. His role is to take Fasan’s new drug, which will be loaded into Benoit’s nano-delivery system, and conduct experiments in cell cultures and mice to find out if the system is effective at binding to cancer cells.

“By using the proper materials to enhance drug delivery,” Benoit adds, “it could potentially revolutionize cancer treatment.”

journal cover

The team won a 2016-17 University Research Award. Funded annually by UR President Joel Seligman, the money goes to scientists with projects that have a high probability of receiving additional external funding. They received $75,000 to generate data to compete for larger grants from the National Cancer Institute, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the Leukemia Research Foundation.

“The idea is to have a perfect bullet,” Fasan says. “A very nice feature of this collaboration is that we can take advantage of complementary expertise and run with it.”

This article was originally published in Dialogue, the Wilmot Cancer Institute magazine.

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University of Rochester cohosts 2017 Mid-Atlantic Region Biomaterials Day

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The University of Rochester is joining with City College of New York, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Rochester, and Rutgers University to host the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Biomaterials Day on February 24 in New York City.

The theme for the conference this year is "Biomaterial Frontiers: Emerging challenges creating new opportunities." This all-day research conference will feature local faculty, student, and industry speakers and is designed to provide networking opportunities and foster new collaborations.

Professor Danielle Benoit will be speaking on drug/gene delivery at the conference along with other professors with research focusing on biomaterials. The University of Rochester is now accepting abstracts for rapid fire talks and posters, with a due date of January 27. To submit an abstract or to register, please visit The Biomaterials Day page and please view the Biomaterials Day Flyer

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