Professor’s 'tinkering ways' lead to novel drug therapies
Sunday, April 14, 2019
As she was being recruited by the University of Rochester, Danielle Benoit had an opportunity to meet with Edward Puzas, the Donald and Mary Clark Professor in Orthopaedics and an expert in bone remodeling.
“Just to talk about what he was doing, what I was doing, and what we might do together,” recalls Benoit, an associate professor of biomedical engineering.
Puzas told her about his research into the “crosstalk” that occurs between the cells that continually remodel our bones. He had discovered that the osteoclasts in charge of breaking down depleted bone tissue leave behind “molecular signatures”—so the osteoblasts charged with rebuilding the bone will recognize where they are needed.
“Is that at all interesting?” Puzas asked her. “Could that be useful for something?”
“Yes—and yes,” was Benoit’s reply. That conversation was one of the reasons why Benoit ended up accepting a faculty position in the University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.
The number of women among the department’s faculty members was another.
“It wasn’t just women who were junior faculty members, but women who were senior and very well established, and who had thriving research programs,” Benoit says. “To me, that suggested that Rochester was going to support that kind of career development.”Read More: Professor’s 'tinkering ways' lead to novel drug therapies
Danielle Benoit ‘Embodies the Spirit’ of Teaching and Mentorship
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Danielle Benoit, an associate professor of biomedical engineering who has provided research experiences for more than 80 undergraduates in her lab, is the second recipient of the College Award for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Mentorship. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)
Danielle Benoit says it’s “an outstanding opportunity for everybody involved” when undergraduates do research in her lab.
Former students Tim Felong ’14, Amanda Chen ’14, and Janet Sorrells ’17 will all vouch for that.
“I wouldn’t be in medical school right now if it weren’t for Danielle’s mentorship,” says Felong, now at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Chen, a graduate research fellow in biological engineering at MIT, says, “Danielle’s lab was one of the biggest reasons why I chose to pursue a graduate degree. She gave me the opportunity to work on an independent project, publish a first-author paper, present at conferences, and more.”
And, “the more time I spend in academia the more amazed I am with how Dr. Benoit managed to keep up with so many things,” says Sorrells, now a graduate research fellow in bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I’m very thankful for everything I learned from her.”
Benoit, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, is this year’s recipient of the College Award for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Mentorship at the University of Rochester.
The award, first presented last year, is funded by chemistry alumnus Frederick Lewis ’68 (PhD) and his wife, Susan Rice Lewis. It salutes tenured faculty members in Arts, Sciences & Engineering who teach large, introductory classes as well as advanced seminars and independent study projects, and who mentor research experiences, especially those that involve laboratory training in the sciences and engineering. (Read more about this new award recognizing faculty for their mentorship. )
The award will be presented to Benoit at the Undergraduate Research Exposition on April 19 at the Welles-Brown Room of Rush Rhees Library.
Benoit “embodies the spirit of this award through her dedication to undergraduate learning through classroom teaching, research experiences, and mentoring,” says Diane Dalecki, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “The research training and mentoring that undergraduates receive from Professor Benoit primes them for continued success as graduate students and throughout their professional careers.”
For example, several of the undergraduate students from her lab, including Chen and Sorrells, have received prestigious National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships to support their graduate studies.
Teaching at ‘multiple levels’
Benoit, who joined the University of Rochester in 2010, develops therapeutic biomaterials for tissue regeneration and targeted drug delivery. For example, she and her collaborators developed a device that selectively delivers drugs to sites of bone resorption to heal fractures and treat osteoporosis. She has also pioneered the development of hydrogel-based engineered extracellular matrices for bone and salivary gland tissue regeneration.
She has been lead, corresponding, or co-author of more than 70 papers in top journals; has received numerous grants, including an NSF CAREER award; has garnered nine approved or pending patents; and was recently elected a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering.
She has provided research experiences for more than 80 undergraduates in her lab.
“For me, part and parcel of being a faculty member here is to teach on multiple levels, not just in the classroom but also in the lab, where I can teach undergraduate and graduate students alike the best, cutting-edge research practices,” Benoit says.
Students say the benefits of working in the Benoit Lab extend beyond the research skills they learn.
“Danielle has always been my go-to mentor for all sorts of advice – moral, social, intellectual – and was a powerful advocate for me if I ever found myself in a challenging situation,” Chen says.
Felong says he especially appreciated the “culture” of the lab, which was more like a “family environment. She takes the time to really get to know her students—their interests and hobbies. She hosts biannual parties, where you get to interact with her energy-packed, fun family. I think this openness and mutual appreciation for life inside and outside of work is really motivating for many people my age. I know it was for me.“
Seeing the potential in students
In addition to mentoring students in her lab, Benoit teaches courses including Advanced Biomaterials, Controlled Release Systems, Research Methods, and, starting this spring, Cell and Tissue Engineering, which is the capstone course for biomedical engineering majors with concentrations in that subfield.
She also developed and taught for eight years a biomaterials course, required of all biomedical engineering majors, that typically enrolls about 70 students. She designed the laboratory components of the course so they would dovetail with a biomedical computation and statistics course students take at the same time.
“Students complete laboratories in biomaterials one week, and then analyze data they collected by applying statistical approaches from the other course the following week,” Dalecki says. “This is an excellent pedagogical approach for students to understand how concepts they’re learning in different classes combine to enhance their skills as an engineer.”
Sorrells served as a teaching assistant for the biomaterials course under Benoit. She says Benoit brought the same level of “engagement” to the course that she brings to her lab. “She collected student feedback often and took it very seriously, trying different things to see how to best educate students and equip them with skills like scientific writing and knowledge of biomaterials.”
Benoit also supervises a senior design team each year, meeting with teams at least weekly, guiding them in their design and engineering, and mentoring them on teamwork and project management.
Perhaps the ultimate measure of a good teacher is the ability to inspire, motivate, and serve as a role model.
“Danielle suggested that I apply for the Research Initiative Award for Undergraduates, which is much like a grant application,” Felong says. “I never would have thought that I had a shot at winning that grant, but I applied and ended up getting it.” Benoit, as well as Andrew Shubin ’16 (PHD), ’18M (MD), the graduate student with whom Benoit paired Felong in her lab “saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.”
Chen says she “often reflects on mentorship behaviors that I hope to build into my own management style – now as I work with undergraduate trainees (at MIT), but also in my future career. And I find myself often thinking back to my experiences in Danielle’s lab.”
Faculty recognized for excellence in biomedical engineering
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
From left, Catherine Kuo, Danielle Benoit, and Amy Lerner have each been inducted as fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. (University photos)
Three biomedical engineering faculty members at the University of Rochester–Danielle Benoit, Catherine Kuo, and Amy Lerner–have been inducted as fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE).
“Three new fellows in one year is fantastic,” says Diane Dalecki, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “We are so proud of all three of our recipients, for their innovative research, teaching excellence, and outstanding service to their field and to our University.”
Members of AIMBE are employed in academia, industry, clinical practice, and government. AIMBE’s College of Fellows is comprised of the top two percent of medical and biological engineers. A total of 156 fellows–chosen for outstanding contributions in research, practice, or education–were formally inducted at the AIMBE annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on March 25.
Danielle Benoit, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering, was elected for her “outstanding contributions to the design of ‘smart’ materials to treat diseases, control cell behavior, and answer fundamental biological questions.”
A member of the faculty since 2010, Benoit develops therapeutic biomaterials for tissue regeneration and the targeted delivery of therapeutic drugs. For example, she and her collaborators developed a device that selectively delivers drugs to sites of bone resorption to heal fractures and treat osteoporosis. She has also pioneered the development of hydrogel-based engineered extracellular matrices for bone and salivary gland tissue regeneration.
Catherine Kuo, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedics, was elected for her “innovative contributions to understanding mechanical regulation of embryonic development to inform tissue engineering and regenerative medicine strategies.”
Kuo joined the Rochester faculty in 2015 and directs a multidisciplinary research team in developing novel strategies to regenerate adult tissues from stem cells inspired by embryonic development. She and her students have discovered that adult stem cells behave like embryonic cells when cultured in biomaterials that are engineered to mimic embryonic tissue. These adult stem cell-regenerated tissues can then be implanted in the body to replace diseased or injured tissues that have limited capacity to heal.
They have also discovered how embryo movements, like kicking, directly regulate the development of musculoskeletal tissues. These studies have led to the discovery of therapeutic molecules that can be used with physical rehabilitation to promote healing of adult musculoskeletal tissues, such as tendons, after injury.
Amy Lerner, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, was elected for her “outstanding contributions to orthopaedic biomechanics, engineering design education, and diversity engineering and academia.”
Lerner was a soft goods design engineer for ILC Dover’s program that made Shuttle space suits for NASA before joining the University in 1997. Her research has focused on gender and ethnic differences in anatomy, the role of the meniscus in pressure distributions, and the effects of obesity on risks for knee osteoarthritis.
She is academic director of the Center for Medical Technology and Innovation, a Department of Biomedical Engineering master’s program in medical device design that partners students with clinicians at the Medical Center. Lerner also directs the department’s senior design program, which engages teams of students in “real-world projects” for companies, community agencies and Medical Center clinicians.
Lerner also co-chairs the University’s Commission on Women and Gender Equity in Academia, which received a 2018 Presidential Diversity Award for its work to improve diversity and inclusion. Lerner received the University’s Georgen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2016.