At first glance, SD713 in the School of Dentistry building could easily be mistaken for a “help wanted” bulletin board. The door, if you can find it, is covered in sheets of paper, the specifics of some 60 proposals waiting to be taken as clinical research projects into the Benninger lab.
Brion Benninger, MD, MS, Assistant Professor, Departments of Surgery and Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation, said the projects, which range from historical to educational, basic science to clinical science, will all eventually be claimed by ambitious young scientists, many who are not currently enrolled at OHSU, but who join his team as student research lab assistants.
“I have students from outside of OHSU contacting me all the time who have heard of the opportunities on my door,” said Dr. Benninger, who is also a faculty member in the Departments of Oral Maxillofacial Surgery and Integrated Biosciences in the School of Dentistry. “Many of them are in that in-between state of applying to medical or dental school. While their academic futures are in transition, they all share a passion for conducting research and I want to help.”
For the last ten years, Dr. Benninger, the only formally trained clinical anatomist at OHSU, has utilized his clinical, teaching and research skills to mentor students pursuing varied degrees in his lab. These students include OHSU medical and dental students, as well as Pre- and Post-Baccalaureate students from several universities.
His clinical anatomy research lab works with residents in several surgical specialties and collaborates with departments in both the OHSU School of Medicine and School of Dentistry, as well as schools out of state and internationally. “These important collaborations strengthen the student’s knowledge of clinical anatomy in ways that can’t be found in most university settings,” said Dr. Benninger. “It’s one of the reasons why my students have been so successful in winning awards at the local, regional and national level.”
Research students from the Benninger lab made a splash at the 2010 international meeting of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists (AACA), held in Hawaii. A total of 16 research projects from Dr. Benninger’s lab covering surgical head and neck, thoracic, and lower limb procedures, were peer reviewed and accepted as presentations at the annual AACA conference.
Taylor Delamarter, a lab assistant from the Integrated Biosciences Department, one of several members of the team not enrolled at OHSU but mentored by Dr. Benninger, won the Basic Science research award competing against 30 countries.
“What’s amazing is that we competed with PhD students and won,” said Dr. Benninger. “My student lab research assistants and OHSU students aren’t doing this 9 to 5, so it really is incredible when you stop to think about it. They commit to these projects on their own time after course or work responsibilities, working before or after class, late into the night and during weekends.”
Dr. Benninger hopes his outreach to students in the community who have yet to enroll in a medical or dental school will serve as a pipeline for OHSU in landing some of the country’s brightest minds. The success of his developing scientists, many who come from local universities to claim projects from his door, is proof that he is already attracting such a group.
Pictured: Dr. Benninger and students