PhD Candidate Tim Bensman Earns NIH Fellowship

PhD candidate Tim Bensman, PharmD ’11, has been awarded a two-year, $82,000 F31 fellowship from the National Institutes of Health for his project “Theta Defensins for Targeting the Metalloproteinase System in Cystic Fibrosis Airway Disease.” He is the first student in the School’s Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics program to receive the highly competitive fellowship.

bensmans“I chose the PhD in Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics because it afforded me a foot in the biomedical research doors of both clinical and foundational science,” explains Bensman. “Despite current standards of practice, the daily limitations in drug therapy and disease management seen at clinic raise important questions to which hypotheses and therapeutics are experimentally tested in the lab. We hope that this approach efficiently translates into new disease treatments and care.”

Bensman’s faculty mentors are Associate Professor Paul Beringer, PharmD, and Wei-Chiang Shen, PhD, the John Biles Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences. Also involved in the collaboration and team science training are Associate Professor Kathleen Rodgers, PhD, and Keck School of Medicine Professor Michael E. Selsted, MD, PhD, who is also the chair of Pathology and Lab Medicine at the medical school.

Bensman was one of the first USC students to pursue the dual PharmD/PhD degree program. His numerous previous awards include a $10,000 scholarship from the Medco Foundation, administered by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy; the Best Student Poster Award and the Kelly Award from the American College of Clinical Pharmacy; and a T90 Training Award from the National Institutes of Health. He has also been invited to give podium presentations twice at the North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference in 2010 and 2012.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common bacteria in cystic fibrosis patients.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common bacteria in cystic fibrosis patients.

His interest in pharmacy began in sixth grade, when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract secondary to dysfunction of the immune system.

“I remember the clinical pharmacist talking with me about drug therapy, and educating me about the drug and its side effects,” recalls Bensman. “It sparked my interest in pharmacotherapy and pharmacology.”

Bensman’s research focuses on the discovery of novel drugs, as well as new uses for existing medications, to combat chronic inflammation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis. “There is a real need for new and optimized pharmacotherapy,” he adds.