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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.

Congratulations Jared!

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

Benoit Lab graduate students honored at CMSR Research Symposium

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Several members of the Benoit Lab received awards at the 8th Annual Center for Musculoskeletal Research Symposium:

  • Graduate student Marian Ackun-Farmmer won the Predoctoral Randy N. Rosier MD PhD Award Competition for her oral presentation entitled, "Targeted Nanoparticle Delivery of Maraviroc to Normalize the Leukemic Bone Marrow Microenvironment."

  • Postdoctoral trainee Yuanhui Song, Ph.D., won the Postdoctoral Randy N. Rosier MD PhD Award Competition for his oral presentation entitled, "Engineering Salivary Gland Tissue Chips."
  • Graduate student Clyde Overby was a finalist for the poster presentation competition for his work entitled, "Semi-Randomized Zwitterionic Peptides for Antifouling Applications in Polymeric Nanoparticles."
CMSR1

CMSR2

CMSR3

Marian Ackun-Farmmer presents work at BMES Annual Meeting

Friday, October 19, 2018

Marian Ackun-Farmmer presented her work at the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society on October 19, 2018. Her presentation was "Nanoparticle Drug Delivery to Treat Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).”

Maureen Newman successfully defends thesis

Friday, August 3, 2018

Maureen Newman defended her thesis on Aug 3. Her research project was titled, “Bone-targeted Polymer Delivery of Osteoanabolics for Bone Regeneration.”

Lemonade Stand Supports Efforts to Cure Childhood Cancer

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The lab of Danielle Benoit, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, will hold its ninth annual fundraiser this weekend in support of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and its efforts to cure childhood cancer. Donations are accepted online or by dropping by the lab’s lemonade stand, being held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday June 9, at the Rochester Public Market, 280 North Union Street, or from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, June 10, at the Brighton Farmers Market, 1150 Winton Road South.

Read More: Lemonade Stand Supports Efforts to Cure Childhood Cancer

Professor Benoit receives University of Maine Francis Crowe Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award

Sunday, May 13, 2018

benoit award

From left to right: Professor Hemant Pends, Professor Danielle Benoit, Dean Dana Humphrey

Professor Danielle Benoit was presented with the 2018 University of Maine Francis Crowe Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award during the University’s graduation ceremonies on May 12. The award, presented by Hermant P. Pendse, chair of chemical and biomedical engineering and Dana N. Humphrey, dean of the college of engineering, recognizes outstanding service to the field of engineering. As a distinguished member of the Francis Crowe Society, Professor Benoit will now be known as Distinguished Engineer Danielle S.W. Benoit, Ph.D., ‘02.

Professor Benoit receives Drug Development Award from UR Ventures

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Professor Danielle Benoit, along with Profs. Rudi Fasan and Ben Frisch, received a Drug Development Award from UR Ventures for their project entitled, "Synergistic agents to normalize the marrow niche and potentiate AML cytotoxic agents.” The goal of this drug discovery lead study application is to perform pharmacokinetics/biodistribution and preliminary efficacy studies for a new AML drug therapy involving one repurposed FDA approved drug (Maraviroc, to prime the microenvironment for cytotoxic agents, identified as a potential AML-acting drug by Prof. Frisch) and a new selective antileukemic drug entity (micheliolide-64, a cytotoxic agent developed by Prof. Fasan). Data will provide initial assessments of the therapeutic potential of a new, synergistic treatment based on bone marrow-directed delivery of marrow priming agents and AML cell-targeting cytotoxic agents. As these drugs suffer from significant delivery barriers hindering efficacy they are loaded into a targeted drug delivery system developed by Prof. Benoit. Critical towards these studies is the bone marrow microenvironment and AML therapy development expertise of Prof. Frisch.

Jomy Varghese successful defends thesis

Friday, April 20, 2018

Jomy Varghese successfully defended his thesis April 19, 2018. Jomy’s thesis is entitled, "Salivary Gland Radiation Protection”.

Kenneth Sims wins SFB STAR Award

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Kenneth Sims Jr. will present his 15 minute oral presentation on "Enhancing Design of Nanoparticles for Anti-Biofilm Drug Delivery" during the "Racing for the Surface: Recent Development in Antimicrobial and Osteoinductive Biomaterials" session of the Society for Biomaterials 2018 Annual Meeting and Exposition: Exploring the Nexus of Research and Application being held in Atlanta, GA, April 11-14, 2018.

About the STAR award: The Society For Biomaterials presents Student Travel Achievement Recognitions (STAR) awards for outstanding abstracts submitted by students. These STARs present a major opportunity to recognize research excellence and develop future leaders within the Society. This award of $250 is intended to help off-set travel expenses to the meeting.

Maureen Newman Wins International Section for Fracture Repair Podium Award

Monday, April 2, 2018

Maureen Newman’s podium presentation at the annual Orthopaedic Research Society meeting " Development of Bone-Targeted Polymer Conjugates of Wnt/β-catenin Agonists to Stimulate Fracture Healing" was awarded the International Section for Fracture Repair Podium Award. Congratulations Maureen!

Marian Ackun-Farmmer receives Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Marian Ackun-Farmmer, a Ph.D. candidate in Danielle Benoit's lab, has been awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31) grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for her project titled “Nanoparticle mediated microenvironmental targeting of CCL3 signaling for the treatment of acute myelogenous leukemia.”

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is a public health concern that kills 2% of children and 70% of adults over the age of 65 diagnosed worldwide. This project is taking an unprecedented approach of treating AML by using a drug delivery approach to prime the bone marrow so that AML is less likely to evade standard chemotherapy. The proposed plan is expected to improve AML patient survival and will lead to development of a novel, versatile marrow-targeted system that is applicable for other types of leukemia and marrow associated diseases.

Yuchen Wang successful defends thesis

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Recent PhD graduate Yuchen Wang successfully defended her thesis in January and is now employed at PaxVax as a Research Scientist. Yuchen’s research project was titled, "Development of Controlled Release Systems for Fracture-Targeted Therapeutic Delivery.”

Abstract:

Fracture healing is a major clinical challenge, with a 10-20% impaired healing rate, resulting in significantly prolonged hospitalization, decreased quality of life, and substantial healthcare costs. Currently, myriad therapeutics that target various mechanisms and signaling pathways have been developed to augment fracture healing. Apart from bone morphogenic protein (BMP) implants, there are currently no FDA approved fracture healing enhancement drugs on the market. A major challenge of the bench side to bedside translation is efficient drug delivery. This motivates the goal of this dissertation, which is to develop successful drug delivery systems that can overcome critical barriers to realize clinical translation. Drug delivery barriers to bone fracture enhancement therapies include short half-life in vivo, non-specific accumulation in healthy tissue, as well as associated side effects. The studies herein provide strategies for local and systemic drug delivery. Specifically, the local delivery system in this thesis consists of polymer-based hydrogels loaded with siRNA/nanoparticle (NP) complexes. The local drug delivery system takes advantages of the NP’s ability to protect siRNA and facilitate cell uptake, and the hydrogel’s ability to localize and sustain the encapsulated content at the fracture site. Results showed controlled release of siRNA/NPs complexes from hydrogels through hydrolytic degradation. Localization of NPs at fracture was associated with degradation rates of hydrogels such that hydrogels with the slowest degradation rates yielded longer localization at fracture. Hydrogels that delivered siNRA/NP for ~ 1 month were implanted in a murine fracture model, and in vivo gene silencing efficiency indicated potent and expedited healing. In the systemic drug delivery system, polymeric NPs with bone-targeting peptides conjugated onto the NP corona were used to realize bone targeting efficacy. Potent fracture-targeting efficiency was observed, and NPs accumulated at fractures for ~ 7 days. NPs loaded with a small molecule GSK-3β inhibitor and showed fracture site-specific β-catenin agonism, enhanced bone mechanical properties, and faster healing rates. Taken together, the two drug delivery strategies explored here establish solid platforms for design of next generation drug delivery systems to fracture.

Maureen Newman will be recognized for her research at 2018 Annual ORS Conference

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Maureen Newman will be honored for her work titled, "Development of Bone-Targeted Polymer Conjugates of Wnt/β-Catenin Agonists to Stimulate Fracture Healing" during the spotlight session at the 2018 Annual Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS) Conference on March 10th, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Maureen Newman’s research paper published in Biomacromolecules

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Congratulations to PhD candidate Maureen Newman whose paper was published in Biomacromolecules on December 11, 2017. Her paper is titled, "Multivalent Presentation of Peptide Targeting Groups Alters Polymer Biodistribution to Target Tissues.

Dominic Malcolm’s research paper published in ACS Nano

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Congratulations to recently defended graduate student Dominic Malcolm whose paper was published on December 12, 2017 in ACS Nano. The paper is titled, "The Effects of Biological Fluids on Colloidal Stability and siren Delivery of a pH-Responsive Micellar Nanoparticle Delivery System.”

Marian Ackun-Farmmer passes qualifying exam

Monday, November 20, 2017

Congratulations to Marian Ackun-Farmmer for passing her qualifying exam on November 17th, 2017!

Marian Ackun-Farmmer wins poster prize at URMC 22nd Annual Cancer Institute Scientific Symposium

Friday, November 10, 2017

Graduate student Marian Ackun-Farmmer won a poster prize at the URMC 22nd Annual Cancer Institute Scientific Symposium in the Experimental Hematology/Hematological Cancer category on November 9th, 2017. Her poster was titled, "Improving Stability of Novel Micheliolide Analogs with Polymeric Micelles”.

“Bubbles” Boost Search for Treatment to Aid Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Overby Photo

Catherine Ovitt, Danielle Benoit, and Lisa DeLouise

A scientific team at the University of Rochester is using innovative technology to discover preventative treatments for salivary gland radiation damage typical for head and neck cancer patients—and recently received a $3.8 million National Institutes of Health grant to support their investigation.

Cancer patients can lose salivary gland function during treatment for head and neck tumors. The irreversible damage, which prevents patients from producing saliva, often results in permanent dry mouth and makes it difficult to eat, speak, and swallow. The team will develop salivary gland tissues using a unique chip technology called “microbubbles,” which are tiny spherical wells or bubbles that can hold cells.

The use of the microbubble platform is based on several years of salivary gland research, led by Catherine E. Ovitt, Ph.D., associate professor of Biomedical Genetics, a member of the UR Center for Oral Biology, and an expert in the repair and regeneration of salivary glands, and Danielle Benoit, Ph.D., associate professor of Biomedical Engineering and an expert in drug delivery systems and hydrogel platforms for tissue engineering approaches. Together with Lisa A. DeLouise, Ph.D., associate professor of Dermatology and Biomedical Engineering, who developed and received several patents for the microbubble concept, the scientists are working as co-principal investigators on the NIH project.

Their goal is to find drugs that could be given to patients prior to radiation treatment that would prevent damage to the glands.

“Dr. Ovitt and I have shown through years of investigation that being able to develop functional salivary gland tissue for testing is the key to solving this problem,” Benoit said. “So, it’s microbubbles to the rescue.”

Expanding cells and tissue outside of the body is elusive. In this case the process involves taking salivary gland cells that have been removed from humans undergoing surgery, expanding the cells, and studying their reaction to various drugs.

A major problem, however, starts to occur as soon as the tissue is removed from the body and isolated: Cells immediately begin to lose their natural function. In the body, cells send signals and secrete proteins that are essential for their survival. In a culture plate in a laboratory, however, these signals and proteins are diluted and dispersed, making the cells no longer viable.

DeLouise’s technology at first glance looks similar to a cell culture petri dish, a round piece of silicone about the size of the large cookie. But within the dish are an arrangement of thousands of tiny round “micro-wells,” each one comprising a minuscule compartment for cell growth and tissue formation. The unique shape of each microbubble creates a niche that concentrates the cells, allowing them to proliferate and form salivary gland units.

The microbubbles come in different sizes, and the beauty of the technology is that scientists can grow cells in thousands of bubbles at one time. DeLouise can make dishes the size of a dime that include more than 5,000 microbubbles. In addition, Benoit’s lab has produced hydrogel materials that can be placed inside each microbubble that further allow the cell to maintain its structure and function.

If the team can successfully grow human salivary gland cells in the microbubbles, they say, they will also be able to rapidly test thousands of existing Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs on the salivary tissue using the microbubble technology.

“Only one treatment is currently available for radioprotection but it comes with many side effects, so most patients discontinue it,” Ovitt said. “There is a great need for additional ways to either cure or prevent this debilitating condition.”

The team is collaborating with Shawn D. Newlands, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., chair of the Department of Otolaryngology and member of the Wilmot Cancer Institute’s head and neck oncology team, to collect salivary tissue from consenting patients undergoing salivary gland surgery. Salivary gland cells are isolated from these tissues for seeding into microbubbles for the investigation. Additionally, Paul Dunman, Ph.D., associate professor of Microbiology and Immunology, will provide high-throughput drug-screening expertise during the second phase of the project, which is contingent upon successful development of the human gland chips.

Read More: “Bubbles” Boost Search for Treatment to Aid Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Clyde Overby Receives T32 Training Grant

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Overby Photo

Congratulations to graduate student Clyde Overby who has received a T32 Training Grant. The goal of the Chemistry-Biology Interface (CBI) T32 training program is to prepare predoctoral students to become next-generation scientists in the biomedical sciences. This goal will be achieved through recruiting top students and training them in cross-disciplinary research, critical thinking, writing and communication, and the responsible conduct of research. Other distinctive components of the program are: a) a course on cutting-edge research at the CBI, b) workshops on entrepreneurship, intellectual property management, and networking, and c) participation in Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) experiences, which will further enrich the skillset and professional preparation of the trainees. The program will directly benefit from the close research relationship and physical proximity between Arts, Sciences, & Engineering (AS&E) and the School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD) at the University of Rochester, and its established record in innovation and entrepreneurial translation of scientific discoveries into new businesses.

Dominic Malcolm successfully defends thesis

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Recent PhD graduate Dominic Malcolm Successfully defended his thesis in August and was hired at Athersys in Cleveland, Ohio in September as a process engineer, associate scientist.

Dominic Malcolm’s research paper published in Biomacromolecules

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Congratulations to recently defended graduate student Dominic Malcolm whose paper was published on September 19, 2017 in Biomacromolecules. The paper is titled, "Diblock Copolymer Hydrophobicity Faciliates Efficient Gene Silencing and Cytocompatible Nanopaticle-Mediated siRNA Delivery to Musculoskeletal Cell Types.”

Yuchen Wang’s research paper published in ACS Nano

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Congratulations to graduate student Yuchen Wang whose paper was published on September 7, 2017 in ACS Nano. Her paper is titled, "Fracture-Targeted Delivery of β-Catenin Agonists via Peptide-Functionalized Nanoparticles Augments Fracture Healing.”

Ken Sims finalist in Upstate New York and Northeast Regional Symposium Randy N. Rosier MD PhD Award Competition

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Graduate student Ken Sims was a finalist in the Upstate New York and Northeast Regional Symposium Randy N. Rosier MD PhD Award Competition for his oral presentation entitled, "Enhancing Design of Anti-Biofilm Drug Delivery Nanoparticles via High Throughout Screening.”

Ken Sims and Marian Ackun-Farmmer win poster awards at Frontiers in Materials Science for the 21st Century Symposium

Friday, May 26, 2017

Graduate students Ken Sims and Marian Ackun-Farmmer won first and second place poster awards, respectively, at the University of Rochester, RAMP Frontiers in Materials Science for the 21st Century: Biomimetic and Anti-fouling Interfaces Symposium. Ken’s poster was titled, "Nanoparticles co-loaded with farnesol and myricetin result in superior oral biofilm inhibition in vitro.” Marian’s poster was titled, "Improving Stability of Novel Micheliolide Analogs with Polymeric Micelles.”

Andrew Shubin receives commendation for PhD Dissertation

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Andrew Shubin

Andrew Shubin

Andrew Shubin, a 2017 PhD graduate in the lab of Professor Danielle Benoit, has been selected to receive commendation in the Outstanding Dissertation Award Competition for Engineering. Andrew's PhD research project is titled, "Poly(ethylene glycol) Hydrogels for Salivary Gland Regeneration.”

Abstract: 
Over 500,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with head and neck cancers yearly.  Radiation, a mainstay of curative therapy, causes irreparable damage to the salivary gland acinar cells, which results in chronic dry mouth or xerostomia.  Xerostomia negatively affects patient quality of life for which no current treatments can ameliorate.  Recently, regenerative therapies utilizing the direct injection of primary submandibular gland (SMG) cells into irradiated salivary glands have shown promise in regenerating salivary gland tissues and partially restoring gland function.  However, the amount of regeneration is variable and the little is known about the mechanism of healing and the characteristics of primary SMG cells.  To address these limitations we propose the use of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogels to enhance in vitro culture conditions and in vivo cellular transplantation.  PEG is a “bio-inert” polymer which provides “blank-slate” to control and study specific cell-material interactions.  Initial work focused on designing cytocompatible methods to encapsulate and culture primary SMG cells within PEG hydrogels.  The minimization of radicals using thiol-ene versus methacrylate-based chain polymerizations of hydrogel macromers and the inclusion of cell-cell interactions through the formation of multicellular “spheres” supported the survival and proliferation of primary SMG cells within PEG hydrogels for a 14 day culture period.   Genetic lineage tracing was employed to determine the in vivo origin of encapsulated cells and showed that the majority (>80%) of encapsulated cells come from acinar and duct populations.  To improve PEG hydrogels as a tissue engineering platform, the effects of laminin incorporation and different forms of hydrogel degradation on the proliferation, development of acinar cell phenotypes, and epithelial morphogenesis of encapsulated SMG cells were explored.  The encapsulation of SMG cells within enzymatically (e.g., via cell-dictated processes) degradable hydrogels resulted in increased expression of the acinar water channel Aquaporin-5 (AQP5) and cellular organization reminiscent of native gland tissue compared to SMG cells encapsulated in hydrogels with bulk-hydrolytic degradability.  Degradable hydrogels (either hydrolytic or enzymatic) supported the greatest amount of cellular proliferation versus non-degradable gels.  PEG hydrogels were further utilized to study cells originating from acinar tissues in primary culture.  Despite previous studies suggesting otherwise, genetic lineage tracing showed that acinar lineage cells compose a significant portion of primary SMG cells in culture.  However, acinar lineage cells underwent significant changes in morphology and exhibited a ~100-fold decrease in expression of the acinar cell markers AQP5 and Mist1.  Furthermore, many acinar-lineage cells express cytokeratins and proliferate, indicating a transition to a duct-cell like phenotype. This acinar cell plasticity has important underpinnings for salivary gland biology and tissue engineering as acinar cells are the most prevalent cell type in the salivary gland.  Finally, in vivo methods of hydrogel mediated cell transplantation were developed, but caused sufficient mortality with irradiation.  Similar in vivo methods were well tolerated with minimal mortality in non-irradiated mice, suggesting that irradiation substantially affects surgical survival.  Taken together, this work demonstrates the utility of PEG hydrogels in characterization primary SMG cells and highlights several future areas of inquiry.

Marian Ackun-Farmmer wins newly established ASE Barnard Fellowship

Friday, April 28, 2017

Photo of Marian

Marian Ackun-Farmmer

Marian Ackun-Farmmer of the Benoit Lab has been selected for one of the newly established Arts, Sciences and Engineering Donald M. and Janet C. Barnard Fellowships. Marian was recognized specifically for her strong research record as well as her commitment to mentoring, outreach and service to the Department of Biomedical Engineering as well as her field. The fellowship comes with a $3K stipend top-off for the 2017-2018 academic year, as well as a tuition award. Congratulations, Marian!

Danielle Benoit is Rochester's 'Young Engineer of the Year'

Friday, April 7, 2017

Benoit in the lab

Danielle Benoit, recipient of the Young Engineer of the Year
award from the Rochester Engineering Society, in her lab with
PhD students Yuchen Wang and Maureen Newman.
(Photos by J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester).

Each year, Danielle Benoit leaves her Therapeutic Biomaterials Lab at the University of Rochester to host the Annual Benoit Laboratory Lemonade Stand at the Rochester and Brighton public markets.

Benoit and her students serve lemonade and explain their work on childhood cancer therapies as part of a national effort organized by Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which has helped fund her research.

“Most people don’t realize that treating cancer in children is much different from treating cancer in adults,” says Benoit, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering. “At the same time, funding for childhood cancer research is woefully miniscule, compared to the money that goes into studying adult cancers.”

Benoit’s community outreach is one reason she is the recipient of the 2016 Young Engineer of the Year Award from the Rochester Engineering Society. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in and contributions to the profession by young engineers in the Rochester region and promotes the importance of engineering practice to society.

Benoit, who joined the University in 2010, is an international leader in developing therapeutic biomaterials with applications in bone and salivary gland regeneration and treating dental caries and childhood cancers.

“Her work is creative, and transformative,” says Diane Dalecki, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “She is a true and creative engineer, applying principles of classical chemical engineering and materials science to new biomedical applications in medicine.”

This has resulted in numerous patents; several federal, state, foundation and industry grants – including a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award -- and such professional awards as the 2015 Young Innovator Award in Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering.

Benoit also is “an outstanding educator, dedicated to training the next generation of engineers,” Dalecki says. Benoit teaches a core biomaterials course for undergraduates and courses in biomaterials and drug delivery for graduate students. She annually mentors students working on senior design projects and undergraduates who participate as Xerox fellows in a summer research program.

Benoit with Students

Benoit demonstrates the properties of fluids to
elementary school students visiting her lab.

"Danielle is an outstanding faculty member, whose research in new biomaterials will have a large impact on therapeutics for a number of diseases and whose teaching and service demonstrate her dedication to the educational and outreach missions of the Hajim School," says Wendi Heinzelman, dean of the school.

Benoit's community outreach also includes inviting an elementary school class to her laboratory each year for a day of learning and hands-on experimentation. “Importantly, Dr. Benoit always involves her whole lab in these events, thereby instilling the importance of community outreach to the next generation of engineers in training,” Dalecki says.

Fifth graders visit Benoit Lab for demonstration and hands-on testing

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

benoit lab

A local entrepreneur club comprised of fifth graders interested in science and the business aspects of science recently contacted the Benoit lab after conducting one of the outreach experiments the lab shared online. The module demonstrates diffusive drug delivery through hydrogels, and they were interested in conducting another hands-on demonstration alongside the scientists behind the activity. Professor Benoit invited them to the Benoit Lab, where they met with lab members, took a mini tour, attended a presentation on hydrogel mechanics, and did some hands-on mechanical testing of hydrogels. The takeaway: gels made with lower weight percents are softer, and gels made with higher weight percents are stiffer, allowing us to tailor hydrogel constructs for our desired tissue engineering applications.

benoit lab

Benoit Lab's Yuchen Wang wins New Investigator Recognition Award

Monday, April 3, 2017

benoit lab

Yuchen Wang, a graduate student in the lab of Professor Danielle Benoit, has won a New Investigator Recognition Award. Yuchen was presented with the award at the Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS) Annual Meeting in San Diego, California for her project titled, "Delivery of β-Catenin Agonists via Targeted Nanoparticles to Enhance Fracture Healing". Co-authors for this research were Michael Baranello, Maureen Newman, Tzong-Jen Sheu, J. Edward Puzas and Danielle Benoit.

benoit lab

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!

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.

Teamwork toward a ‘Perfect Bullet’ for Leukemia

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

journal cover

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.

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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