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Benoit lab helps teachers inspire the next generation of researchers

Friday, October 11, 2019

Li

Yiming Li, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Danielle Benoit, professor of biomedical engineering, shows Rochester City School District elementary teachers how they can use materials in their own classrooms to do a “tube inversion test” – an experiment to evaluate the relative viscosity of gels.

It was “all hands on deck” in the Benoit lab recently when Rochester City School District elementary teachers spent a day learning how hydrogels and other biomaterials can be used for tissue repair and targeted drug delivery.

Their visit was part of a Warner School program to help prepare public school educators for new state-mandated standards they’ll be expected implement in their science and math classes.

And the Benoit lab members were more than happy to help.

“We have a good time talking to teachers because they’re the ones in the field, doing the real-life work of educating the next generation, which is really awesome,” said lab technician Azmeer Sharipol, who welcomed the teachers and gave them an overview of the lab’s work.

Four postdocs, five PhD students, two laboratory technicians, an undergraduate student, and Professor Benoit then pitched in to present four lab demonstrations on how:

  • the lab adjusts the stiffness of hydrogels to precisely mimic the environment that different types of tissue cells need to survive.
  • RGD peptides can be used to attach cells to hydrogels.
  • Materials with hydrophilic and hydrophobic regions can form nanoparticles for drug delivery.
  • tissue arrays grown in microbubbles can speed up the testing of therapeutic drugs. 

Clearly, these are not topics an elementary teacher would need to know as part of a typical second-grade lesson plan. But that was precisely the point, says Marie Rice, a city school district teacher who helped facilitate the visit.

“As adults, we’re used to being the person who knows everything, especially when we’re working with our students,” says Rice, who is also a Noyce Master Teacher Fellow at the Warner School.  “So, one of the great things about this set of workshops is that it puts our teachers back in the role of a learner, so they can experience what it’s like from a student’s perspective.”

That way the teachers can better appreciate the importance of observing, asking questions and seeking clarification—three of the competencies they will need their students to master.

The program was designed so the teachers would receive only a basic introduction to the topics before going into the labs for the actual demonstrations.

“If we start off by teaching you everything that you need to know, and then take you into the  lab, there’s nothing left to learn. So, what we’re doing is flipping that,” Rice says. “We’re giving you just enough to survive, and then throw you into a lab where you actually have to start making sense of it yourself. That way the ownership of the learning is yours.”

However, lab members also suggested experiments the teachers could use in their classrooms to illustrate basic scientific concepts that underly much of their research.

For example, postdoctoral fellow Yiming Li showed the teachers how to do a “tube inversion test” – an experiment to evaluate the relative viscosity of gels. “This experiment can be done in classrooms where student can make gels using different ratios of JELLO powder and water,” Li explained. 

The teachers were also interested in the daily log postdoctoral fellow Ken Sims kept while doing experiments to develop a drug-delivery system targeting dental plaque. Sims kept detailed notes, including diagrams and mathematical calculations.

“Our kids are supposed to maintain lab books too, but a lot of teachers don’t know what the lab books should actually contain,” Rice said. “What’s the standard of practice? So now we’re walking away with a unified sense of what they’re logs should contain, to adequately prepare them for doing science in the future.”

Even a Fisher Vortex Genie-2 device in one of the labs -- used to quickly mix materials in a test tube -- caught the eye of Cassandra Dearring, a 6th grade teacher at Wilson Foundation Academy.

Dearring

Cassandra Dearring, a 6th grade teacher at Wilson Foundation Academy, uses a Fisher Vortex Genie-2 device to quickly mix materials in a test tube.

“Kids would love using that, and it would start giving them a sense of the kinds of tools that scientists use to do their research, at a young age,” she said. “I liked everything we were learning this morning. And as I was listening and learning, I was wondering how I can apply it and connect it with the children in my classes?”

That’s why Li and the other students don’t mind pitching in. “I think the ‘teach the teachers’ program is very valuable and beneficial for us, the teachers and their students,” Li says. “This activity can definitely make broader impact by sharing our scientific research and ideas with the people outside the scientific fields, in a relatively easy and understandable way. Additionally, teachers and students can learn what kinds of cutting-edge research and advanced science are going on in labs, which can potentially raise students’ interests and passion for science. This can be a way to cultivate the next generation of scientists.”

Kenneth Sims successfully defends thesis

Friday, July 12, 2019

Sims

Ken Sims

Congratulations to Kenneth Sims, Jr., who successfully defended his thesis on July 12, 2019! His project was titled, “Advancing Anti-Biofilm Nanoparticle Drug Delivery Systems.”

Professor Benoit named director of Materials Science Program

Monday, July 1, 2019

Danielle Benoit, professor of biomedical engineering, became the director of the Materials Sience Program at the University of Rochester effective July 1, 2019.

“Danielle’s strong background and outstanding research in materials science eminently qualify her for this position,” says Wendi Heinzelman, dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Benoit’s lab uses synthetic hydrogels for tissue regeneration and polymers to target drug delivery to specific tissues, minimizing harmful side effects in other parts of the body.

 “Her track record of collaborations with Medical Center, Hajim School, and Department of Chemistry faculty will enable her to pull together PIs from multiple disciplines to bring exciting new research focuses to the Materials Science Program and generate new collaborative, multidisciplinary projects,” Heinzelman says.

The Materials Science Program, established in 1966, offers master’s and PhD degrees to students interested in research activities in which advanced materials are tailored for specific uses. About 50 faculty across several departments are affiliated with the program, which currently enrolls 20 PhD and 16 master’s students.

Benoit says her top priorities include:

  • Improving the program’s communication and marketing internally and externally.
  • Recruiting additional faculty affiliates across multiple disciplines.
  • Building multidisciplinary collaborations in Materials Science to compete for major funding through programs such as NSF’s Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF).
  • Work with the UR Materials Research Society student chapter to build a strong sense of community and identity among Materials Science students.

“I hope to make participation in the program as rewarding as possible for faculty and students alike,” Benoit says.

Marian Ackun-Farmmer receives Best Poster Award

Friday, June 28, 2019

Marian

 

Congratulations to Marian Ackun-Farmer who received a best poster award during the Gordon Research Conference in West Dover, Vermont on June 23-28, 2019. Her poster was titled, “Nanoparticle mediated delivery of novel anti-leukemic therapeutic agents.”

Ken Sims receives 2019 IADR Colgate Research in Prevention Travel Award

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sims award

 

Congratulations to Ken Sims who received a 2019 International Association for Dental Research (IADR) Colgate Research in Prevention Travel Award. This is an impressive accomplishment, as only six awards are given across five global IADR regions. The Colgate Research in Prevention award is supported by funding from the Colgate-Palmolive Company to encourage young investigators to undertake research in the prevention of oral diseases and to facilitate their presentation of this work to the international dental and oral health research community. The work must represent research in the area of oral disease prevention. Ken’s research project is titled, "Nanoparticle-Mediated Co-Delivery of Myricetin and Farnesol Synergistically Disrupts Oral Biofilms.”

Lemonade Stand Supports Efforts to Cure Childhood Cancer

Friday, June 21, 2019

For the 10th year in a row, Danielle Benoit, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and mentees from her lab will hold their fundraiser in support of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and its efforts to cure childhood cancer. You can donate online or drop by the lab’s lemonade stand from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at the Rochester Public Market, 280 Union Street North or from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, June 23, at the Brighton Farmers Market,1150 Winton Road South.

Clyde Overby passes qualifying exam

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Clyde

Clyde Overby

Congratulations to Clyde Overby who passed his qualifying exam on June 5, 2019! His project is titled, “Development of Anti-Fouling Peptide-Nanoparticle Conjugates for the Delivery of siRNA to Fractures.”

Professor Benoit participates in ELATES at Drexel Program

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Professor Benoit is one of 22 female faculty members selected from 19 institutions across the U.S. and Canada to participate in Drexel University’s Executive Leadership in Academic Technology, Engineering and Science (ELATES at Drexel) program. ELATES is a one-year, part time program that focuses on increasing personal and professional leadership effectiveness, leading and managing change initiatives within institutions, using strategic finance and resource management to enhance organizational missions, and creating a network of exceptional women who bring organizational perspectives and deep personal capacity to the institutions and society they serve.

Maureen Newman receives 2019 Outstanding Dissertation Award

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Maureen

Maureen Newman

Congratulations to Maureen Newman who has received the 2019 BME Department Outstanding Thesis Award. Dr. Neuman’s dissertation entitled “Bone-targeted Polymer Delivery of Osteoanabolics for Bone Regeneration” encompasses five very well-written chapters, four of which constitute the basis of several peer-reviewed publications in high impact specialty journals. Overall, Dr. Neuman graduated with nine published scientific papers and a patent that emerged from her dissertation, in addition to numerous presentations at local and national meetings. Dr. Neuman is an outstanding ambassador for the University of Rochester biomedical engineering graduate program. We are confident that she will have a bright scientific and professional career, and this award is a deserved recognition of the quality of her graduate research that set her on her independent career path.

Marian Ackun-Farmmer wins BME Service Award

Monday, May 13, 2019

Marian

Marian Ackun-Farmmer

Congratulations to Marian Ackun-Farmmer who won the 2019 BME Department Service Award. Marian has been very involved in recruiting efforts as well as in the newly developed Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering, a graduate student chapter tackling under representation in STEM.

Read More: Marian Ackun-Farmmer wins BME Service Award

Women of invention: How Rochester faculty find success as patent-holders

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

They create novel devices that enable real-time biopsies, light the way for robotic surgery, and help independent-minded teens manage their asthma.

They develop new technologies to target the delivery of drug therapies with unprecedented accuracy, to help stroke victims regain their sight, and to vaccinate people with a simple, wearable skin patch that could have global impact.

Lisa Beck, Danielle Benoit, Paula Doyle, Hykekyun Rhee, Krystel Huxlin, and Jannick Rolland are among the women inventors who have placed the University of Rochester in an enviable position.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, Rochester ranked fourth among US universities during 2011–2015 for the percentage of patent holders who are women.

Read More: Women of invention: How Rochester faculty find success as patent-holders

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

Benoit in the lab

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

Group Shot

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 BenoitCatherine 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.

Ken Sims receives 2019 AADR Travel Grant Award

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

quiet time

Ken Sims

Congratulations to Ken Sims who received a 2019 American Association for Dental Research (AADR) Bloc Travel Grant Award. As a NIDCR-supported trainee, Ken received this support to present his scientific dental research at the IADR/AADR/CADR General Session and Exhibition. His abstract is titled, "Nanoparticle-Mediated Co-Delivery of Myricetin and Farnesol Synergistically Disrupts Oral Biofilms.” He was selected by the IADR Program Committee based on originality of research design, innovations for technique, and scientific merit.

Jared Mereness successfully defends thesis

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jared

 

Last week, Jared Mereness successfully defended his PhD Thesis. Since arriving at the University of Rochester in 2012, Jared has worked with his advisor, Tom Mariani, and studied Lung and Pulmonary diseases. During his studies Jared was awarded an institutional T32 Training Grant in Pulmonary Research, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Med-Into-Grad Fellowship in Translational Cardiovascular Research at the University of Rochester.  Jared's research and thesis has focused on describing the role of the extracellular matrix component, collagen 6, in lung structure, and its effects on the function of pulmonary epithelial cells.  His findings broaden our understanding of potential roles this unique extracellular matrix protein may have in chronic lung disease and the development and maintenance of lung structure. Soon Jared will begin a Postdoc position in Danielle Benoit’s laboratory in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Rochester. Congratulations Jared!

For further Reading, please see: PLOS ONE: Type VI collagen promotes lung epithelial cell spreading and wound-closure by Mereness et al.

Jared defending

 

Graduate students honored by Society for Biomaterials

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Three members of the Benoit Lab have been recognized for their outstanding contributions to the Biomaterials' 2019 Annual Meeting which will be held in Seattle, WA, April 3-6, 2019. Graduate student Kenneth Sims received a Student Travel Achievement Recognition (STAR) award which recognizes research excellence and helps to develop future leaders within the Society for Biomaterials. Graduate students Marian Ackun-Farmmer and Clyde Overby received Honorable Mentions.

Ken

Kenneth Sims

Marian

Marian Ackun-Farmmer

Clyde

Clyde Overby